Hammersmith Odeon, that London
Wow. I mean Wow!. Sod that, I mean WOW!!!! I am still reeling. Shows like this a few and far between, this feeling more akin to a religious experience, entering as an interested acolyte, leaving positively evangelical. As a latecomer to DCD, via, first, the solo records of singer extraordinaire, Lisa Gerrard, and, secondly, the records of Brendan Perry, no slouch himself in the vocal department. And I have picked up some of their later stuff, including last years terrific ‘Dionysus’, where they provide the missing link between Banco de Gaia and his source material, organica/dance, if you will. But this tour was not, apparently and emphatically, to showcase that but to air the lesser known alleys of their 28 year, on and off, existence. The UK got but 2 dates in this ‘Life and Works, 1980 – 2019’ world tour, both at Hammy Odeon, last night and again tonight. Both sold out.
A fairly blank stage forms the set up, with several keyboards and many percussion kits, including an orthodox ensemble, midline at the back. At the front the stage seemed split, stage left, between the hammered dulcimer of Gerrard, and a bright green electric guitar, propped up between some bouzoukis, these being for Perry, on the right. With persian rugs to stand on. Which seems about right, rather than say when Greg Lake had the same. For this is how the Deads work, songs very much alternating between their yin, the impossibly complex vocalisations of Gerrard, soaring between octaves with ease, yelps and open-throated ululation aplenty, as she sings in tongues, and Perry’s yang, a deep and rich baritone that commands attention, midway between Jim Morrison at his smoothest, and Scott Walker when he still sang tunes. I confess to not knowing many of the songs, but they all captivated me from the start, in no small part down to the glorious sound balance, and the efforts of the 6 piece band, many of whom could double between percussion, swathes of synthesiser and arcane acoustic stringed instruments. Perry’s brother, an earlier member of the band in the last century, is back in the fold, proving effective at all and everything, oud and ektara, bongo and balalaika, resplendent with long white whiskers.
Gerrard didn’t say a word all evening, in a white costume pitched halfway between Game of Thrones and Alice in Wonderland, her hair in a cylindrical bun pointing heavenward. Perry, shaved head and grey goateed, in a green tweed suit, was more talkative, and proved himself adept on atmospheric guitar, although he often stood, sideways on, conducting the calisthenics of Gerrard, particularly when the more choral aspects in the music were present, the backing musicians all having a voice as well.
I guess I was waiting for ‘Sanvean’, the intro immediately bringing silence to the room, pins gripped tightly in hands across the entire audience. Yet it wasn’t even the peak, ever more wonderful music pouring forth from one, other, both and band. One misjudgement, for me, was ‘Wind That Shakes the Barley’, a, I think, traditional song from their earliest years, sung unaccompanied. I felt this could have been a golden opportunity for that effective turn off the microphone trick, but it was too mannered and stagy for amplification. The applause suggested I was maybe a minority. Contrary to the interview I had read about this tour, there actually was one piece from 2018’s ‘Dionysus’, ‘Dance of the Bacchantes’, the tremendous ensemble piece of rhythmic drumming and plucking, keyboards replicating the bagpipes, that closes the album. With Perry invoking over the keening vocals of Gerrard and 2nd female voice, one of the synth players, the overall effect bringing to mind a bank advert on peyote. (In the best possible way, I should add, having a soft spot for Karl Jenkins.)
90 minutes and it was over, with even a suspicion they wouldn’t encore, the gap unfashionably long. But they did, Perry producing a top version of Tim Buckleys’s ‘Siren Song’, beating, to my ears, even the wonder of that by, I guess, one-time rivals, the Cocteau Twins. And that wasn’t enough, them returning for a second and final flourish, closing, aptly, with ‘Severance’.
Less full on goth than I anticipated, altho’ there were still sufficient to confirm that goth is not a good look on the older and stouter…..
A brief comment on the Odeon, it being over 40 years since I had been there last. It’s OK! Decent bars, and lots of room to wait the support to finish. I even went to the same pub, the William Morris, as I used to.
It made me think..
Yup, it did. There is as much music out there I don’t know as music I do, a thrilling idea and challenge. I arrived a fan of Lisa Gerrard and left a complete convert to her roots, with 6 of the back catalogue duly ordered. But how will they sound? I can’t help but feel part of the remarkable nature of this show tonight was in having the technology, the experience and the talent to play it as it sounded in their heads, all those years ago.