The sold-out signs are up in West London on a Sunday night for the second evening of Dead Can Dance’s London stop on their European tour. The dates are their first since 2013 and the area in front of the Apollo (that’s the Hammy O to those of us of a certain age) is incredibly congested as waves of fans attempt to navigate a sea of cold steel security barriers. Dead Can Dance defy genre classification and on this particular night it’s possible to spot the young and the trendy rubbing shoulders with a good number of black-clad Goth types, while the majority of the crowd have obviously been following the band since the early 80s.
I’ll admit to not being very familiar with the DCD catalogue before this evening. I’d given the new ‘Dionysus’ album a good spin and enjoyed it, only to find that the tour ‘A Celebration – Life & Works 1980-2019’ would be delving into their back catalogue minus the new album. An interesting decision which is understandable as the duo of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard consider ‘Dionysus’ to be a complete work they weren’t comfortable with splitting up for live performance. With the promise that they’d be playing some obscure deep cuts the evening sounded like it would be an interesting ride especially for the more dedicated fan.
Opening with the slow build of ‘Anywhere Out Of The World’ the audience are immediately drawn in as DCD effortlessly mixed ambient, filmic excursions with more hard-edged alternative rock moments all topped off with folky, world music flourishes. Blessed with a really nice clear sound the two keyboard players, drums and bass formed the bedrock with the rhythm section especially effective on the rockier moments where the bass cut through very nicely indeed. Two additional band members added a range of acoustic and electronic percussion frequently switching from drum pads to a range of African drums giving the overall sound a more organic feel.
Band leader Brendan Perry, resplendent in a smart grey suit, switched between Bouzouki and a very nice green telecaster – two instruments which perfectly represent the yin and the yang of the Dead Can Dance sound –while delivering impressively clear vocals. This brings us to Lisa Gerrard, Perry’s partner in Dead Can Dance since the band formed in the early ‘80s. Taking her spot centre stage Gerrard, in a flowing white dress complete with tiara, looked fantastic and the perfect incarnation of an operatic diva (I’m using the term diva here in a positive sense with none of the negative connotations this word seems to have gained in popular culture). Gerrard performs at a Yangqin, a Chinese dulcimer style instrument which she hammered at with impressive results giving the illusion that she is performing at a lectern to a gathering of the faithful. Vocally Gerrard was nothing short of sensational as her voice echoed around the high ceiling of the Hammersmith venue. A solo rendition of ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ proved a jaw-dropping display of precision and power. Occasionally at a live show, you get the feeling you’ve heard something very special and this was one of those moments.
The sheer variety of the music on show was terrific to hear and it’s a credit to Perry and Gerrard that they’re able to integrate African and Asian influences into a sound that was originally rooted in alternative/goth rock alongside covers of Deleyaman and Tim Buckley. During ‘The Carnival Is Over’ I had the feeling that Perry was channelling a little Aznavour style French Chanson pop into the mix but that’s probably just me. Merging all these various influences and then fashioning them into a live set that flows is an art form which DCD have mastered. The 2019 European tour continues into June so I’d recommend tracking down a ticket if you can. You’ll be glad you did.