It was a stunning portrayal of Dead Can Dance's stellar discography.
Renowned for her dramatic and ethereal vocals with avant-goth-rock band Dead Can Dance and movie scores (including Gladiator and Baraka), Melbourne’s own Lisa Gerrard is nothing short of an intergalactic queen. Compelling and commanding from the second she steps on stage garbed in elaborate golden robes, tulle shawl and platinum-blond beehive, Gerrard sings in a mix of English and her own self-created language, and it’s the closest we’re going to get in real life to Tolkien’s Elvish royalty.
Teamed up with Aussie pianist and composer Paul Grabowsky for the exercise, Grabowsky takes the reigns to explain the evening’s premise. The night is to be split into two sets of continuous music. The first set includes their reworking of Dead Can Dance tunes ‘Sanvean’, ‘Cantara’ and ‘The Host of Seraphim’, with an unexpected bluesy treat to wrap it up, while the second includes some of Grabowsky’s own compositions (including ‘Angel’), Dead Can Dance’s ‘Yulunga’ and concludes with ‘Now We Are Free’ from the Gladiator soundtrack.
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Gerrard has been singing in her own idioglossia since she was 12. The fact that we have no clue what she’s singing about doesn’t matter – it hits you right in the chest and she’s communicating soul to soul. No wonder Gerrard calls it the “language of the heart”.
The fact that she occasionally whispers to an unseen entity to her side only adds to the sense that something otherworldly is going on. As one audience member asked, with genuine curiosity, “who the fuck is she talking to?”. The shamanic aspect of the performance becomes clear again when Gerrard takes it down a notch with ‘Sleep’, a gentle, soporific lullaby that has me genuinely struggling to keep eyes open.
Grabowsky is an unabashed Gerrard fan and his flawless accompaniment is beautiful but unobtrusive – a perfect framework for her extraordinary, operatic range. Gerrard is, as always, magnificent.
The largely goth crowd is adoring, and Grabowsky makes the point that performance is like an energy loop between artist and audience and praises us for good behaviour. We’re so focussed (maybe hypnotised) that you could hear a pin drop and there’s nary a mobile phone in sight.
Highlight: The pair’s interpretations of the Dead Can Dance songs ‘The Host of Seraphim’ and ‘Yulunga’ are a contemporary spin on ecstatic-trance traditions and we collectively transcend.
Lowlight: The dude beside who farted throughout the whole gig, prompting the person two seats down to pronounce that the offender could “make an onion cry”. Just don’t.
Crowd favourite: Grabowsky had promised a surprise treat to conclude the end of the first set, which turned out to be ‘House of the Rising Sun’. It’s not the sort of song that comes to mind when you think of Gerrard, but her mournful contralto is perfect for the blues. Gerrard makes the song sound both creepy and sexy, so that by the time she urges the listener not to “do what I have done”, whatever sins she’s committed sound perversely appealing.