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Live Review: Dead Can Dance & David Kuckhermann

11 February 2013 | 10:10 am | Guido Farnell

Unlike a lot of lame reunions of ‘80s bands seeking to recapture some of their former glory, Dead Can Dance manage to do this with a whole lot of style and dignity, proving that they are still at the top of their game.

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The Palais quietly fills as David Kuckhermann introduces his music in the dry academic tones of a musicologist. His approach is understated but the master percussionist plays pieces with an inspired intensity on an unusual range of instruments such as the hang and frame drum. Kuckhermann quite amazingly gives us a Middle Eastern inspired groove on the hang. Whilst belting out strong beats he also sketches out a strange fluid melody in an obscure scale on this fascinating instrument. Later picking up a humble tambourine, jaws drop as Kuckhermann proceeds to do things to it that you would barely imagine possible, to produce beautifully intricate rhythms.

Despite their roots in old Melbourne town, Dead Can Dance have eluded local fans for many years, until now. Understandably, expectation hangs heavy in the air and many around us, talking in the most reverential of tones, seem to think that tonight's gig will be the stuff of legend. The duo take to the stage and launch the set with Children Of The Sun. A four-piece band helps them to bring their recorded sounds alive. Brilliantly realised sound design gives it a certain majesty that has become their trademark. Over the next two hours they play their latest album, Anastasis, and highlights from an extensive back catalogue. Their music bristles with a broad range of exotic influences from around the Mediterranean, moving from Turkey to Greece and the Balkans across to Andalusia and Northern Africa. They defy the descent into conventional folk and are able to juxtapose, synthesise and place these influences into modern contexts. Suspension of disbelief is important for the uninitiated but once you enter their musical universe it is a truly magical place. Brendan Perry croons like Scott Walker did many years ago; his resonant baritone delivers heartfelt lyrics that look towards the sky for cosmic truth. Lisa Gerrard looks like a statuesque Celtic queen but when singing she becomes the high priestess of the temple and her voice lingers in the air like the sweetest incense. Her semi operatic vocals sweep across octaves, languages and ethnic musics to give us exquisite glossolalia that reaches for the stars in search of transcendence. Gerrard's voice soars and swoops around us as she belts out the mesmerising Host Of The Seraphim. Even at her most dramatic she remains poised and in total control. Whether she is smiling at the audience and blowing us kisses or dutifully accompanying Perry on the yang ch'in, Gerrard tends to be the centre of our focus. Dreams Made Flesh and a surprisingly lilting cover of Song To The Siren slip into the mix, as well as The Ubiquitous Mr Lovegrove – a nostalgic highlight for many. Gerrard brings down the night with the obscure but exquisite Rising Of The Moon after which she gushes “I love you all” before leaving the stage. Unlike a lot of lame reunions of '80s bands seeking to recapture some of their former glory, Dead Can Dance manage to do this with a whole lot of style and dignity, proving that they are still at the top of their game. The lights go up on an audience that is truly spellbound.