For a band whose music is otherworldly and detached from fashions, labels and Zeitgeist, conventional terms like “split” and “reunion” seem slightly inappropriate. But like any other recording artist, the ethereal Dead Can Dance is still subject to the laws of the market, and a seven-year “sabbatical” has only fueled skyrocketing demand for the group’s 17 European shows, all booked in classical concert venues. Cologne’s Philharmonie, squeezed in between the city’s towering Cathedral and the Rhine river, provided a setting ideal for an enchanted evening of musical mysticism.
Set consisted mostly of DCD’s classic tracks: Irish tune “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” which Lisa Gerrard delivered a cappella; Brendan Perry’s epic “How Fortunate the Man With None,” here augmented by female vocal accompaniment; Italian 14th century dance “Saltarello,” the evening’s only instrumental, which marked a rocking break halfway through the show.
Dead Can Dance shows are akin to a divine service, with Gerrard delivering the incantations of a Babylonian high priestess, and Perry’s grave vox suitable for a preacher delivering dirges.
The half-dozen previously unheard numbers proved to be the night’s real treat. These included the final encore “Hymn for the Fallen,” allegedly penned by Gerrard for “Gladiator” but then reserved for a still unreleased solo album. Here, in the only track sporting real piano sound, Gerrard sang in English and adopted an uncommon bluesy mood pretty recalling that of Sinead O’Connor, or even Marilyn Monroe.
Of all bands that had their roots in the New Wave, DCD arguably took the most defiant step into completely different musical spheres, making it a stand-alone phenomenon like, in their respective ways, Scott Walker or the Residents. Highlighted by the remarkable trained voices of Gerrard and Perry, the former often using lyrics not bearing resemblance to any living language, in an environment of old-style instruments and electronics, DCD create sounds of epochs gone by. Or at least they offered a clever image of what might have been medieval, Mediterranean or ancient Persian. (After all, the Wild West never sounded like Morricone, either).
Visually, the stage design was kept surprisingly down-to-earth, with only Gerrard standing out in a yellowish gown. Perry and the quintet, including renowned Irish composer Patrick Cassidy, kept rotating on instruments, at least three players at any time handling the diverse percussion sets. While most melodic ingredients came from programmed keyboards, Gerrard played the electric zither, with Perry occasionally playing a hurdy-gurdy.
The aud exhibited solemn discipline, avoiding any noise except for enthusiastic applause. Toward the end, it managed to produce a broad smile, then laughter, on Gerrard’s face before she left the stage for good.
In the years since DCD’s last tour in 1996, Gerrard has detoured into film music (“Gladiator,” “The Insider”), and Perry nurtured his recording studio at Quivvy, a 19th century chapel in Ireland. Little has been said about potential recording plans.
Band will tour North America in the fall, performing Sept. 25 at the Hollywood Bowl and Oct. 8 at Radio City Music Hall.