Kongresshaus, Zurich, Switzerland
3rd June 2013
Dead Can Dance
Thickening cloud and the threat of rain greeted revellers heading to the Kongresshaus in Zurich for this special night. Since reforming, touring and releasing the magnificent ‘Anastasis’, Australian-British collective DEAD CAN DANCE have seen their already formidable reputation and popularity increase immensely recently. And as people file into the cavernous interior of the venue, there’s a palpable sense of excitement and expectation.
The sizeable stage is packed with a bewildering array of instruments, and as the band stride into their places the simple but effective lighting enhances the expectation. ‘Anastasis’ opener ‘Children Of The Sun’ gets things going tonight, and it’s not long before the voice of Brendan Perry sends collective shivers through the audience. Hugely powerful, rich and emotive, it’s impossibly magnificent, and surely one of the most impressive and instantly recognisable voices in music. The song sits patiently in and around him, collating and building moods and textures and atmospheres, and like many DEAD CAN DANCE songs, the vocals are only part of the story. There are seven people on the stage, all fully concentrating on their role in the unfolding of these stately pieces of music. As the song ends, it’s clear the audience are already fully in the grip of this magic, no warming up needed here, and the response is rapturous.
‘Agape’ follows. The haunting middle-eastern-tinged intro giving way to seductive percussion, before that other towering vocal talent in the DCD arsenal creates the second collective shiver around the venue. Lisa Gerrard, stock-still, and dressed like a stately Tudor queen, has an equally recognisable voice, her range incredible, and the emotion she wrings so effortlessly from every line is quite breath-taking at times. The song is beautiful, and it seems to creep its way into every corner of the aircraft-hangar shaped Kongresshaus, demanding its release, allowing no-one to escape. The true majesty, control and versatility, of Lisa’s voice was best heard on ‘Sanvean’, in my opinion one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of music ever written. There’s a cheer that greets the familiar beginning, before the song swells upwards and out, threatening to lift the roof and shower itself down on the rest of Zurich. It’s an eyes-closed moment, a definite highlight of the night. And as it swells powerfully towards a gorgeous falsetto, before tumbling gently back down to the opening refrain, I think every person present knows they have just heard something very special.
It’s not just the recent album that’s on show tonight – ‘Spiritchaser’ is mined at one point, and some of those seated seem unable to resist the temptation to move and sway, politely leaving their seats and dancing gently in the wings – but those from ‘Anastasis’ seem to be the most effective. ‘Opium’, for example, is note-perfect, stately and stunning, Brendan looking less like a man enjoying himself than one fulfilling a mission, his face contorted in concentration. At its conclusion he even speaks, much to the amazement of everyone who presumed both these fine singers must be verbally mute. A simple “Thank You” and briefly, he’s human after all. Lisa never speaks, and at times it’s difficult to know just how to react to her. The statuesque demeanour, slight nose-in-the-air pose and affected slow-motion diva kiss she occasionally wafts from the stage would be more easy to swallow if it was all a bit tongue in cheek. However, one suspects it isn’t. At least when she sings you can forgive her this superiority. Brendan is the perfect foil really, as he exudes modesty and dignity. And as the percussion really gets busy during ‘The Ubiquitous Mr Lovegrove’ he almost dances, coming to life like a grumpy old cobra, finally charmed by just how good it is.
‘Cantara’ whips things into a frenzy, just to remind us all how varied their repertoire is. It’s a menacing, hypnotic beast of a song, and when the pounding drums kick in the dancers are back in the wings, arms flailing, eyes closed. Slowed slightly, it’s lost none of that manic passion that has always made it a live favourite, and the whole band are lost in it, totally concentrating up to the last note. To follow it, and indeed close the set is the gorgeous ‘All In Good Time’. The vastness of voice set against the sparse instrumentation makes opening line “All your ships have left their moorings, cast adrift on the Sargasso Sea” sound like the best poetry ever written. It’s a slow build of a song, but as it does, and the full scale of Brendan’s singing is showcased, it’s clear why it was chosen both to close the last album, and indeed the show tonight. Thanking the audience with a smattering of German, the response is deafening, and the expectation grows again for the inevitable encore.
Plucking ‘Dreams Made Flesh’ from the vaults of time was an inspired move, it’s strange otherworldliness a reminder of how inventive and at times sinister DEAD CAN DANCE used to sound, this song a highlight of 4AD collaboration ‘This Mortal Coil’ from way back in the Eighties. Haunting and wonderfully morose, it’s followed by a curious reading of the Tim Buckley classic ‘Song To The Siren’. Beautifully sung, the backing music however was slightly too plinky-plonk, weakening some of the blues and gravitas the song commands. No-one seemed to mind though, as it was greeted like an old friend, and given a huge roar of approval. Which leaves the finale, and there can be no better song to end a night like this than ‘Anastasis’ highpoint and all-round triumph ‘Return Of The She-King’. Easy to imagine some stately and mysterious procession as the dignified march progresses, once the voices merge and melt into it, the sheer joy of the moment is incredible. As Brendan’s voice joins the chorus and the instrumentation builds and then breaks, it is stage perfection on every level. No surprise, then, that it receives a long and well-deserved standing ovation.
DEAD CAN DANCE can do no wrong it seems, and the hope must be that they write more new material and continue to tour. The scale of professionalism and the quality of the performance cannot be questioned. The originality and beauty of these songs, something to be cherished and shared.
01. Children of the Sun
07. Black Sun
10. The Host of Seraphim
11. Ime Prezakias
12. The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove
14. All in Good Time
15. Dreams Made Flesh (This Mortal Coil cover)
16. Song to the Siren (Tim Buckley cover)
17. Return of the She-King
Total: 9 / 10
All pictures by Stephen Kennedy