Massey Hall, Toronto, Nov. 5, 1996
by: Jeffrey Morgan for "Launch"
Like it or not--and you don't have a choice--there's no denying the
fact that once-potent signifiers such as "alternative" and "cutting
edge" are now so lamely synonymous with "mainstream" and "commercial"
as to be virtually meaningless.
Which is exactly why it's so comforting to discover that--despite
over a decade's worth of increasing public awareness on her part
amongst those culture vultures astute enough to be in the
know--Diamanda Galás's bleakly chilling oeuvre is still so
uncompromisingly out there in its own blatantly rogue orbit
that, even in an allegedly world-class city like Toronto, no more than
a third of venerable old Massey Hall could be filled by the devout
faithful to hear the Canadian premiere of Galás' current solo piano
recital, Malediction and Prayer: Concert for the Damned.
Which is entirely understandable given that her vocal style (a
three-octave inbred amalgamation of Yma Sumac's whooping range and
Kenneth Williams's droll attitudinal inflections) is definitely an
acquired taste--like heroin or Ernie Kovacs.
Alone on stage and stripped down to the bare-bones
voice-and-grand-piano minimalism exhibited on her 1992 album The
Singer, Galás's Malediction eschews the hellfire
psychotechnics which are such an integral part of her Plague Mass
What The Singer doesn't even come close to conveying,
however, is the fact that Galás's skill as a pianist is without
parallel. Equally adept at gospel, blues, jazz, and opera, her fluid
command of the keyboard--fluctuating from understated elegance to
bravura bludgeoning--only serves to hammer home the fact that nothing
sounds as threatening as a well-amped piano in the hands of someone
who is seriously cold-blooded.
Of course, nobody ever comes to a Diamanda Galás concert just to
hear her tinkle the ivories, so let's get back to that formidable
three-octave voice of hers, shall we?
During the course of the evening, Galas wraps her cacophonous pipes
around a truly eclectic selection of songs, ranging from the slyly
humorous interpretation she gives to Willie Dixon's "Insane Asylum" to
her death-dirge reading of Johnny Cash's "Twenty-Five Minutes To Go."
But of all the evening's radical re-appropriations, absolutely
none are as starkly terrifying as the last-gasp sense of
terminally obsessive despair that she infuses into the butcher-knife
payback of "My World Is Empty Is Without You."
So if you think you're ready for the real cutting edge, then come
over here into the deep end where the water's really cold because
Diamanda Galás is fully-armed and on her way to your town right now.
And don't worry: getting a ticket to see her won't be a problem.
But don't let that stop you.