malediction & prayer reviews




Diamanda Galas

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 concerts.

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.