Dead Can Dance resurrected
Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry
After informally polling my close friends and colleagues about their pre-conceived notions of who (or what) Dead Can Dance is, the results came up empty. This little exercise reminded me of those avant-garde, new-wave and metal bands that used to sell out arenas and wipe out the competition with merchandise sales back in the ’80s, all with little to no radio play or marketing machines behind them.
Back in the day, Dead Can Dance were in good company with bands like New Order and Depeche Mode, all of whom garnered massive acclaim due to the alternative nature of their sound and striking visual aesthetics.
Dead Can Dance, being born of two from a land Down Under back in 1980, remains a true testament to the fact that radio, with all its power to drive the music industry, is no match for building a devout fanbase in a more conventional way: word of mouth. Their modern-classical, neo-gothic signature sound, in a similar vein to their contemporaries Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil, struck a chord with listeners seeking a spiritual release via a rather rough, sometimes unstable, ethereal soundscape. Their style could almost qualify as new age, infused with otherworldly electronica and layered with the surreal, angelic incantations of Lisa Gerrard complementing Brendan Perry’s sombre tones.
The band enjoyed significant mainstream success in the ’90s with the release of their breakthrough recording Into the Labyrinth, best-of collections and the inclusion of a couple of their tracks on the National Geographic-on-acid documentary Baraka in 1992. Being signed to the prestigious British record label 4AD, and distributed by Warner, allowed the duo to secure a dedicated following via North American college radio.
Gerrard and Perry parted ways officially in 1998, following the world tour in support of Spiritchaser, but their respective solo work exposed their individual talents to wider audiences, particularly in Gerrard’s case. Her work became a soundtrack staple, gracing films such as Heat, The Insider and Gladiator. Solo studio albums and touring efforts from both members during the next few years allowed the band to gain clarity and focus, and finally reform for a world tour in 2005, during which they played two dates in Montreal.
Local venues that have hosted the duo include Théâtre St. Denis, the Spectrum (RIP) and, on Gerrard’s solo tour in 1995, l’Église St-Jean Baptiste. Dead Can Dance’s return to la belle province sees a significant step up in venue size: they’re booked at the Bell Centre. But this isn’t merely a reunion to cash in and roll out the “greatest hits.” Anastasis (Greek for resurrection), the band’s first proper album in 16 years, is a collection of modern-classical opuses, vocal hymns split between Gerrard and Perry. While Perry solemnly croons through laments like “Amnesia” and “Children of the Sun,” for many fans, it’s Gerrard’s evocative mezzo-soprano and her very own language on “Agape” and “Anabasis” that heralds the return of Dead Can Dance’s signature sound. The singers unite for a rare vocal duo on Anastasis’s master-/centrepiece, “Return of the She-King,” a song that makes the past 16 years seem to melt away. ■
Dead Can Dance performs at the Bell Centre on Friday, Aug. 24, 8 p.m., $68/$78/$113