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Dead Can Dance
Crocus City Hall 
By Martin Richardson
One of the problems with visiting acts in this city has always been the uncomfortable combination of high ticket prices and bands which, as often as not, come with a whiff of ‘final pay-check’ about them. It’s an uneasy compromise which does little for performer or audience: whacking up the cover charges leads to half-empty halls, which in turn does little to inspire the kind of performance that would justify the cover charge, kick-starting a vicious downward spiral.

Happily, though, Dead Can Dance at Crocus – typically one of the worst offending venues for this – broke the mold and got a near sell-out crowd to trudge to the far-flung reaches of MKAD. The lure was two-fold: sensible prices, with seats starting at 1000 rubles (compare the recent Guns’n’Roses concerts where the cheapest admission was three times that) combined with a band not previously seen in Moscow and which enjoys a reputation for rigorous musical standards which have survived a 15-year hiatus and emerged triumphant with this year’s comeback album, “Anastasis” and the accompanying tour. For loyal fans, it was an offer too good to miss, and amid a rapturous reception Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard delivered a show which lived up to all hopes.

Dating back to 1981, the Aussie duo has tended to plow an alternative furrow. Its wide-ranging take on World Music, fused with a strong sense of contemporary electronica and dance music, probably won’t find much favor among the bearded devotees of the anthropological study of strange noises made by foreigners that clutter up many of our conservatories and academies. But it does create a sound of constant reinvention, one which takes listeners from 13th century Andalucia to depression-era Greece (the 1930s edition, rather than the current austerity-stricken one), via swirls of middle-eastern strings and trance-influenced percussion which takes it beat from the ancient ritual of the shaman, rather than the pompous noodlings of The Shamen. Intelligent dance music, sure, but with beauty as well as brains.

Much of the beauty comes from Gerrard’s imperious vocals. Back in the 80s and 90s she went a long way to defining the sound of indier-than-thou label 4AD, a much-loved home of music which tended to drop jaws with unfailing regularity. Today, returning to much of that material, it’s a delight to report that her voice is as strong as ever – to the point where the sound system struggled to cope when she and Perry adopted close harmony in the monumental “The Host of Seraphim”. Too powerful for the sound system, in a nutshell, this is a singer who goes some way beyond 11, in terms of both range and the ability to fill a room with glorious verbal resonance. Alongside her, Perry’s rich baritone is a powerful counterpoint, even if his penchant for slightly hippy-dippy lyrics (see “Children of the Sun” from the latest album) can undermine this: best heard in ancient Arabic or some other obscure where meaning doesn’t interfere with the sound.

The conflict of sound and meaning takes on extra resonance in Russia at the moment, of course, and Dead Can Dance dutifully joined the ranks of touring artists to pledge support for Pussy Riot and freedom of speech, dedicating a performance of “Amnesia” to the cause. The choice of song was interesting, being a meditation on the crucial importance of societies retaining a sense of their past in the headlong rush to the future – a curious echo of some of the rage unleashed on the controversial recital in the cathedral, which some conservative commentators interpreted as a deliberate slur on Russia’s own history. As befitting the largely young, internationalist crowd at the concert, Perry’s statement of support was applauded warmly, but not overwhelmingly. Either the issue is losing its traction in Russia, or Russians themselves remain in two minds about the simultaneous demonizing and championing of the punk protests.

By that point, though, the audience was already happily sold on this show, and not without justification. Including four encores, the band was onstage for the better part of two hours, giving a thorough round-up of old favorites interspersed with a solid selection from Anastasis. The new material, praised for its continuity and the effectiveness with which it functions as an album, perhaps grew slightly repetitive in its live incarnation: the eight-track CD gains hugely from the ever-growing relationship between each song; on stage, separated from their siblings, stand-alone tracks are perhaps robbed of some of their cumulative power.

Admittedly, though, that’s a minor quibble from a show which combined a high level of musicianship from all concerned – including the evening’s support act the Nadishana-Kuckhermann Duo, a two-man demonstration of virtuousity on a vast range of ethnic objects to be banged or blown – to delight existing fans and win new ones for the band. It wasn’t a performance for lovers of great on-stage drama, since Dead Can Dance is happiest when letting the music speak for itself without dragging along a whole army of special effects and flashing lights. But as a display of musical talent which manages to sound at once timeless and fresh, it was hard to beat.

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