The Dancing Dead in Denver
After a 16 year hiatus, the talented and diverse group of musicians known as Dead Can Dance (DCD) returned with a much anticipated album entitled Anastasis, followed by a world tour. On August 19, they played to a packed Buell Theater at the Denver Performing Arts Center.
Lead vocalists Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry formed the band thirty-one years ago in Melbourne, Australia. Incorporating instruments from all over the world, the duo have crafted a plethora of albums that run the gamut of musical influences from Ireland to Africa to the Mediterranean to China.
But the real power behind DCD comes from the vocals of the duo. Gerrard is renowned for singing in Glossolalia, an evocative expression of emotion through voice that has no defined language. Gerrard has stated in interviews she feels language to be too restrictive, and Glossolalia to be a more authentic expression that communicates to all who listen, regardless of language or culture. Her songs are ephemeral, haunting, and painfully beautiful.
Perry grounds DCD with his solemn vocals and introspective lyrics. Many of his songs originate from centuries-old ballads, reliving the struggles humans have endured in love, loss and that ceaseless search for meaning and purpose. “We are ancient, as ancient as the sun. We came from the ocean, once our ancestral home,” sings Perry in one of their latest songs, “Children of the Sun.”
The show opened with DCD percussionist David Kuckhermann sitting alone on stage. On his lap was a mysterious-looking instrument called a hang. Created in Bern, Switzerland, the instrument consists of two large metal bowls sealed together. Kuckhermann would strike the top side with his hand, producing different tones depending on where he hit the pitted surface. The hang was tuned to a specific eight-tone scale. The audience grew overwhelmingly quiet as he played, the single percussion instrument filling the entire auditorium with eerie, otherworldly music.
Soon the entire band took to the stage and the crowd was on their feet, cheering before the first note was played. DCD opened with songs from their latest album, Perry’s voice booming through the theater just as strong and stirring as it was thirty-one years ago.
The energy of the fans (mostly the older fans) swelled when DCD began playing pieces from their previous albums. The celebrated song “Rakim” began with Gerrard playing the yang-ch’in: a stringed instrument of Chinese origin in which padded bamboo sticks are used to strike a series of strings corresponding to specific scales. Perry accompanied the yang-ch’in with his own Glossolalia.
As the concert moved forward, the music stirred many audience members out of their seats, several finding their way to the back of the auditorium to dance. Others leaned forward in their chairs, closing their eyes and allowing the music to saturate the senses. A few even wiped away lingering tears from wet cheeks.
The Latin phrase Tempus Fugit (time flies) was analogous to the audience’s experience. Almost too quickly the entire theater stood and applauded as the band left the stage. But as the auditorium remained dark, the adoration only grew louder and more intense. Soon DCD returned, Perry signing a fan favorite, “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” with the sound of sitars weaving through his dynamic vocals. Still, the crowd was insatiable and cheered after another exit of the band. And then another, Gerrard returning for the third encore with her mesmerizing voice accompanied only by a keyboard player.
At the end of the concert, though Gerrard’s voice could carve canyons with its intensity and precision, she quietly leaned forward into the microphone, whispering a thank you to the audience, followed by “you are all beautiful.”
Anastasis is fitting lexicon not just for the new album but for the entire concert experience. Coming from the Greek word meaning resurrection, DCD brought to life long forgotten music and ancient instruments from all over the world, bringing with them the spirits of those musicians who lived and died centuries before Denver was even a city.
And in the back of the Buell Theater, where audience members stood and sang and danced, you could see the dead dancing right along with them.