Dead Can Dance wasn’t terribly shy about why they disbanded back in 1999: the ol’ creative differences, with visionaries Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry not quite seeing eye to eye.
All the same, such a generic admission came as something of a shock, seeing how the pair’s respective sensibilities seemed so in tune. After all, when you’re dealing in the somewhat unique realm of Gothic new age Medieval folk, sympathetic and symbiotic collaborators don’t exactly grow on trees.
More shocking, however, came news that after nearly a decade of inactivity Gerrard and Perry were reconvening Dead Can Dance for a world tour, this despite Gerrard’s in-demand and (one must assume) time-consuming soundtrack work as well as Perry’s own various post DCD projects. Perhaps they realized that in tandem they really had something special going on, and the support of their dedicated cult fan base deserved some sort of reward for its unswaying devotion during the quiet interim.
At Chicago’s gorgeous Auditorium Theatre on a Wednesday night, the final stop on its trek around the world, Dead Can Dance were in such good form it’s hard to believe that they once considered it a project no longer worth pursuing. The formidable, hypnotic yin and yang of Gerrard and Perry drew a diverse crowd of curious newcomers, yuppies, hippies, college kids, renaissance fair folk, gay couples and head to toe black clad Goths, all swept up in the almost spiritual quality of the evening.
Perry, a little less hair but as intense as ever, provided the slightly more conventional side of the Dead Can Dance seesaw, delivering songs such as “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove,” “American Dreaming” and “How Fortunate the Man with None” in a Scott Walker-esque croon fit for the wee small hours. His voice was in fine form, and he alternated between guitar, bass, percussion and hurdy-gurdy.
Gerrard, on the other hand, was outright luminous. Poised in a yellow dress behind her podium, which held a Chinese dulcimer, her voice was at once extraterrestrial and celestial. It combined the ethereal cry of the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser, an opera singer’s unfettered emotion and the pure, hymn-like solemnity of a religious choir. That she largely sung in an invented language was irrelevant: the passion, sadness and beauty of her songs could not have been better conveyed, her wordless warbling every bit as compelling and entrancing as the Irish folksong “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.” Hearing her call and response with Perry at the conclusion of “Rakim” was magical.
Never did either Perry (who barely spoke from the stage) or Gerrard (who kept almost entirely mum) address that fact that with no future dates announced this may have been the final Dead Can Dance show, at least for a while. And while Gerrard has said in interviews that a new Dead Can Dance album is not out of the question, who knows if it will ever come to be. For those who were there, the band’s performance went off without any of those career distractions weighing down on them. It was simply two hours of music, pure and simple, a brief respite from everyday life by way of the extraordinary.
Here is Dead Can Dance’s set list:
“The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove”
“The Love That Cannot Be”
“The Lotus Eaters”
“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”
“How Fortunate the Man With None”
“Dreams Made Flesh”
“I Can See Now”
“Salem’s Lot Aria”
“Hymn for the Fallen”