Live Review: Dead Can Dance, Sydney Opera House, Feb 3rd 2013

And so it came to pass, so many years after leaving our shores. Kicking off the second leg of their 2012-13 world tour, the recently reformed Dead Can Dance gave a focused, powerful performance at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday night to a rapt home crowd.

Astonishingly it was the duo's first Australian show since they relocated from Melbourne to the UK in 1982. Back in those days they found little support and encouragement in Oz; out of sync with pub rock, too exotic and idiosyncratic for most of the local new wave and punk crowd. So they left, and after signing to 4AD Records in London, never looked back. 31 years later, this show was a truly momentous occasion for Australian fans.

I'm guessing Lisa Gerrard's and Brendan Perry's vocals benefited from a two month break because their rich, contrasting voices showed none of the strain that a long tour can take on the vocal chords. The 6-piece band conjured DCD's exotic, emotional, other-worldly sounds perfectly and the audio mix in the auditorium was mostly spot-on.

The setlist was not purely Dead Can Dance; there were also some compositions from solo albums along with several native folk songs. I think my heart stopped when Gerrard sang "Sanvean (I Am Your Shadow)", accompanied by two of the keyboardists playing string samples. Other highlights included a couple of tribal tracks from Spriritcatcher (1994) and most of the recently released Anastasis (2012). If nothing else, the show underlined how strong the new album really is, so much so that closing the second encore with "Return Of The She-King" was exactly the rousing climax the show deserved.

The crowd loved it, even though in between songs they were probably the most reverently quiet crowd I've ever been a part of (after the cheers and applause, that is). Gerrard on stage remained an enigma: never speaking to the audience save a few shy words at the very end, totally focused on what she was singing or playing, and in between times smiling radiantly and benevolently at the crowd like the member of some exotic royal family.

It was Perry who chatted with the audience, made a few jokes and generally played the role of bandleader. In fact I came away from the show with renewed respect for Perry. He's a tremendous singer, writer, instrumentalist and musicologist but in the last 20 years he has had to live in Gerrard's shadow. Nowadays many people consider her the star, with her solo career and award-winning film scores having brought her music to a much wider audience then an DCD's core following.

But what I saw on Sunday night reminded me that these are two people utterly joined in music despite some major differences in personal style. Perry had more of the spotlight. I wondered if that has always been the duo's modus operandi in concert or whether it was Lisa Gerrard's doing, deferring to her long-time musical partner so that the audience might even more appreciate his musical gifts. I would like to think so.

The tour continues until at least mid-2013 and appears to be taking in nearly every country on earth. And a global tour is indeed fitting for a band who has absorbed the sounds and traditions of cultures near and far, new and very old. Their mashup of ambient, rock, folk, classical and world music remains very special, and live on stage is a wonderful way to experience their music in all of its lush, diverse, haunting glory.

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