A funny thing (literally) happened to me on the way to the reunion tour of Dead Can Dance: I was having lunch with an old friend, catching up on his life on Manhattan's East Side, when I noticed an elderly man selling newspapers on the sidewalk. This gentleman made the pages of the New York Times, as he was not collecting the money for himself, but to help poor children in Cuba. Something about him seemed familiar. "Do you know who he is?" I asked Blair. "Yeah" he said, "His name's Irwin Corey." So I walked up to him and asked, "Might you be the renown comic, Professor Irwin Corey?" "Sure am!" he replied. I then proceeded to engage him in a lively conversation about his storied career, and all the great comedians he had a hand in promoting. A chance encounter led to a marvelous recollection of the salad days of comedy.
Similarly, it's impossible not to approach the return of goth-progressives Dead Can Dance with the same kind of heady nostalgia: DCD were innovators who found a dazzling way to integrate Celtic, Renaissance, Classical and World-beat (the latter before the term was ever coined) with lead singer Brendan Perry's thought-provoking poetry, often taking its cues from the artists and writers of those respective periods in history. As their outstanding anthology Wake made clear, their body of work was both variegated and years ahead of its time. When Spiritchaser landed in late 1996 however, it also became clear the duo of Perry and singer/musician Lisa Gerrard had apparently run its course; the familiarity seeming on some level to breed contempt (highlighted by artistic squabbles between them,) or worse, complacency. How else to explain the dark but somnolent "Indus" whose chorus lazily borrowed from George Harrison's "Within You, Without You"?
Well, a lot of water and mutual solo projects have passed under the bridge, and after a 16-year sabbatical, a rejuvenated Dead Can Dance returned to the studio with the phenomenal comeback disc, Anastasis. The group opened their concert with the track which opens the album, the archetypical "Children Of The Sun." As orchestral strings wafted through the house of the Beacon Theatre, one felt that familiarity, and it was a welcome pleasure - as the string passage was lovingly informed by one of DCD's earliest hits, "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove." While Brendan Perry motioned toward the mic, there was a palpable electricity in the air - he began: "We are ancient, as ancient as the sun/We came from the ocean, our ancestral home....", a steady backbeat provided by two percussionists propelling the tune along. "We are the children of the sun/Our journey's just begun" and indeed, our nearly two-hour journey had begun as well, reuniting us with the majesty and musical genius of Dead Can Dance.
Perry's voice has grown more commanding over the years - his intonations on "Children Of The Sun" and "Ime Prezakias" (which Perry was quick to point out literally meant "I'm a junkie" in Greek) showcased just how his singing has aged like the finest whiskey: it was deep, sultry, erotic and hypnotic. Lisa Gerrard's voice was also in fine form that evening. On "Agape", the Middle-Eastern strains and rhythmic underpinnings perfectly complemented her soaring mezzo-soprano. And on the classic track "Sanvean", Lisa's measured glossolalia was on par with the best opera divas - if the venue had been The Metropolitan instead of the Beacon Theatre, the crowd's standing ovation would have been followed by bouquets being thrown at Gerrard's feet, and rightfully so.
The concert encompassed the entirety of the new disc, buttressed by signature pieces from the DCD canon. In fact, DCD fans have become so acclimated to the group's catalogue, all it took was a single click of a finger-cymbal to have the crowd erupt in applause and shouts to welcome the track "Rakim" (first heard on the live DCD recording, Toward The Within.) As a vocal duet between Perry and Gerrard, it is one of the group's finest moments: Brendan's foreboding, cryptic lyricism is counterbalanced by Lisa's otherworldly vocalese and lilting hammered dulcimer (which incidentally, was played by both during the course of the evening.) Major kudos should be given to the musicians accompanying the duo on this concert and tour: Dan Gresson's powerhouse drumming and (opening act) David Kuckhermann's exotic percussion enhanced rather than competed with one another, same for the keyboard stylings of Jules Maxwell and Astrid Williamson (the latter accompanying Perry on his solo tour, which stopped by the Paradise Rock club last summer.) Williamson's backing vocals also provided some glorious harmonies with Gerrard's during the songs in which she sang lead, including the marvelous "Host of Seraphim."
The concert officially ended with the closing track from Anastasis, the cautious optimism of "All In Good Time." With a hushed and empathic tone, Perry sang: "When you've reached the end of your rainbow, chasing shadows and down on your luck/Look for the sign, look for a sign....." As the tune progressed, Perry's voice grew more forceful and urgent, then ebbed back to its lilting beginning, followed by a simple yet insistent tom-tom and synthesized oboe. Perry then thanked the crowd, and the band exited the stage, to the thrall of thunderous applause and yet another standing ovation. Needless to say, all in attendance were anticipating an encore - I mean after all, we had waited a long time for this reunion, and we weren't ready to say goodnight just yet.
And our patience was aptly rewarded. All we needed to hear was that droning sitar and tribal drum intro to know Perry was about to launch into "Mr. Lovegrove", when everyone in the house (myself included) wet ourselves: "I thought that you knew it all/I've seen it ten times before/I thought that you had it down, with both your feet on the ground....." What's amazing about Dead Can Dance is how they can replicate a note-perfect studio performance in a live setting, yet imbue their songs with the immediacy and energy only a concert can provide. Perry even abridged the lyric "Never let it be said....." at song's end with a surprising bit of topical commentary, making it even more immediate and special. This was followed by "Dreams Made Flesh", composed by Gerrard for This Mortal Coil (when both were label mates at 4AD Records.) How the Divine Miss G managed to both play the dulcimer and sing so in time and without much effort astounded me. Then came their cover of Tim Buckley's "Song To The Siren", which felt as if (at least to the women present) Perry was crooning a love song to them alone - sad, wistful and dripping with romantic longing.
The second (!) encore was a showcase for Gerrard, who performed a pair of tunes decidedly Celtic in flavor: first up, Anastasis' "Return Of The She King", enhanced by drum and sleigh bells (Gerrard and Williamson melding their voices together in beautiful union) with Perry joining in toward the end with a mantra-like refrain. "Rising Of The Moon" (a traditional Irish folk chestnut) concluded the evening - as the tune is a protest song which speaks of the infamous rebellion of 1798, one can't help but conclude Perry was using a moment in history to remind us of the need to spark our own rebellion in light of the current global/political climate. Bless you, Mr. Perry for continuing to wear your both your conscience and your heart so prominently on your sleeve. And thank you, Dead Can Dance for giving us one of the most memorable performances in concert history. Professor Irwin Corey and Dead Can Dance - two living legends both in the same day? Life is good.