Support came by way of Dead Can Dance percussionist David Kukermann, whose all-to-brief thirty minute set focused essentially on just two instruments: saucer shaped steel drum-like drums (only invented eleven years ago in Sweden apparently) and the Arabic tambourine.
When Dead Can Dance split in 1998, it was after a career's worth of high quality recorded output and touring. There was little left to add to a back catalogue that to this day is just as remarkable as it was when the individual compositions were first heard. Counting my lucky stars that I had actually managed to see them live, I, and many others all over the globe, fully expected their split to be forever. A book closed on the last chapter of a body of work that even now has few, if any, rivals.
Or so it seemed.
The announcement last year that they were getting back together was a sheer delight. Not tainted with the usual concerns when bands announce a reformation over whether the members still had what it takes or, indeed, if the creative chemistry would still be there. In the years since their break, former partners Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard had only proven further their rare individual talents. Perry for his supra-emotional compositional style, and his glorious (if often overlooked) voice, and Gerrard for her truly unique voice. Some opera fans rank her natural ability over many of her operatic peers. Her work with film composer Hans Zimmer in recent years enabled Gerrard to reach far greater global audiences than Dead Can Dance ever did, with her contribution to the score of Ridley Scott's Gladiator perhaps the achieving her biggest reach. But that's reach, not contact.
If Dead Can Dance's unique take on world music has been about one thing it is genuine emotion; creating meaningful contact with the listener. It is impossible to hear Dead Can Dance and not form a strong opinion - either way. If you are susceptible don't be surprised for their music to occasionally pull tears from the corners of your eyes. Not for them, the need for popularity or mainstream recognition. Their music is art; its creation a calling that bows to none but their own will. 'Accessibility' isn't even on the agenda, let alone a concern. But that's not to say they are deliberately oblique or art-house. Not at all.
Their stylistic range has actually been fairly broad across their career. From the gothic-tinged Dead Can Dance in 1984, their style further explored and utilised world music traditions. But for all the glories of their recorded output (and there are many), to fully understand (and appreciate) Dead Can Dance you have to see them live. The only other time I saw them remains indelibly recorded in even my flaky memory. Truly a night never to forget. It was only the once but that's all I needed to complete the Dead Can Dance experience. The second time tonight, at the acoustically ideal Royal Albert Hall no less, felt like an indulgence. A pleasure beyond any reasonable desire.
Unfolding over two spell-binding hours, it didn't much matter that I didn't recognise half the set. Most of the first hour was given over to material from the new (not yet fully absorbed) album Anastasis, and it is equal, even superior, to some of their back catalogue.
Drawing on a broad repertoire of musical genres results in eclectic live instrumentation. Whilst we got the reassuringly familiar and still exotic-sounding yangqin (the Chinese hammered dulcimer), I did miss the hand-cranked hurdy gurdy – something of a defining staple of gigs decades past. A large conventional drum kit was augmented with an array of percussion from various continents and both Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard added to the beats during the evening with their own drums. At the other end of their stylistic repertoire there are their more ambient works. At either end of the range, Dead Can Dance can still hold an audience in raptured awe.
Impressively accomplished, varied and skilled though their instrument playing is (particularly Perry), it is the individually distinct voices they have each brought to the band over the years that for me are their one truly distinguishing characteristic. Remarkably different in qualities yet they are both at the height of their respective fields. These are two of the most remarkable voices world fusion. That they were both in the same band since 1981 is simply incredibly good fortune.
At times it feels a bit like Dead Can Dance exist on a higher plane than most of us mere mortals. Listening to their recordings is like getting a peek at that other dimension. Seeing them perform live is like having the privilege of joining them on their own level if only for a couple of very precious hours. There was no reason for Dead Can Dance to reform and to tour again – but I'm so very glad they did. 8/10
Setlist: Children of the Sun, Anabasis, Rakim, Kiko, Lamma Bada, Agape, Amnesia, Sanvean, Nierika, Opium, The Host of Seraphim, Ime Prezakias, Now We Are Free, All in Good Time; Encore: The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove, Dreams Made Flesh; Encore 2: Song to the Siren, Return of the She-King; Encore 3: Rising of the Moon