Dead Can Dance, Buell Theater, Denver, August 19, 2012

By Geoff Anderson

Dead Can Dance. The band’s name is a perfect description of its music. In a nutshell, DCD adds beats to ancient music from many different areas and eras. Folk music from Great Britain is one source, but more often, the roots of DCD’s music can be traced to the Middle East, Greece or Turkey. Most of their material is in a minor key, atmospheric and a little bit creepy (especially late at night in a darkened house). Sunday night’s show at the Buell Theater was close to sold out, so with plenty of company, the audience didn’t need to worry about whether that scratchy sound near the window was a serial killer trying to get in the house.

Dead Can Dance is the brainchild of Brendon Perry and Lisa Gerrard. They started the band in Australia in 1981 and called it quits in 1996. They’ve now resurrected the band (back from the dead?) and, with a new album, are just starting a world tour. At their Denver stop, they were accompanied by four additional band members (mostly on synthesizers and drums) plus an occasional bass player. Their instrumentation reflects their melding of the ancient and modern with synthesizers side by side with much older acoustic instruments such as hammered dulcimer, Irish bouzouki, something that looked like a lute and another guitar-like instrument (the latter two played by Perry). Even some of the drums were a mix of new and old. Some of Dan Gresson’s drums were run through a synthesizer to give them an enormous, ominous sound.

Perry and Gerrard usually sang separately, most often they were independently the only vocalist on each song; unison singing was the exception. Perry’s authoritative baritone was key to setting the mood on his songs. His vocals were the most traditional, usually singing in English, but not always. (If it wasn’t English, what was it? Hard to say. Greek? Arabic?) Gerrard’s favored vocal style, on the other hand, is known as “glossolalia” which is a kind of wailing without words or at least without recognizable English words. More than 30 years after the formation of the band, Perry’s and Gerrard’s vocals are still as strong and pliant as they were on the early albums.

Perry has his own recording studio in Ireland that is actually an old church. This allows for massive reverb on the studio recordings, which was reproduced electronically in concert. The reverb imparts a sense of a huge space and when coupled with the oversized sound of the synthesized drums, the band had a truly larger than life sound. Often one or more of the synthesizers would set up a drone for much of a  song. The combined effect was majestic, nearly overwhelming. It’s a sound not achievable simply by volume. It felt like being transported to a giant church somewhere in the Middle Ages, except the chanting monks were replaced by a wailing vixen joined by a pagan drum corps. Clearly the devil had not been exorcised from this church. Some of their music occasionally sounded a little New Agey with some repetitive, simplistic figures. But the reason Dead Can Dance won’t get mistaken for a New Age act is the intensity. Let’s just say DCD doesn’t have any songs called “Air Pudding.”

The band played a number of tunes from their new album, but also included many from throughout their career to the delight of the many long-time fans in the audience. The band says it is planning to put together another new album once they finish this tour. DCD, dead? Not yet.

See the music video for their song “The Carnival Is Over,” directed by Ondre Rudavsky below:

Below is a minimalist live version of “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” from an earlier performance:

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