Saturday, October 22, 2005

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

Diamanda Galas at the Sydney State Theatre, October 21st, 2005


The lights went down and Diamanda walked out, taking her seat in front of the piano under cover of darkness. I could see this because I was in the second row, almost dead centre.

Small sounds of her adjusting the seat and microphone, then the first low notes from the piano. Powerful and percussive, hidden somewhere inside them were the blues.

Then came the voice.

From the pits of her soul, she started as low as a woman can go. A single light faded in. She moved, she writhed, her feet worked at the pedals, her face was part of the song. Anger, sadness, frustration, pain. It all showed, and it all could be heard--in her voice, in her playing, in the stamping of her foot.

No banter, no patter, nothing to appease the audience or give us a reprieve from the intensity of her art. After every song, the light would fade and she would turn away to drink water. And Diamanda needed to. Her four octave vocal range was used to full effect, tearing from the furnace of her lungs, shifting to sweet, angelic tones, then back to a chattering, scratched soundscape.

Her voice startled me at times. She would lull us into security, then rip into a screeching, banshee wail. A strobe light came on to pierce the eyes as well as the ears. Just as quickly, back to a soft touch on the keys. Back to a single red light.

There was humour among the darkness. A song she wrote with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, entitled 'Baby's Insane', started off as a ragtime tune. With choruses of 'hide all the knives, cause baby's insane', there were a few chuckles from the audience, who otherwise were simply too scared to utter a word.

Themes of guilt, death, and isolation were constant. The old bluesman, Skip James, played piano in a similarly disjointed fashion. He would tell the audience that his music existed solely to inspire dread. It was not for dancing.

After her hour long set, there was begging, chanting, and whistling for two encores. I couldn't decide whether the audience's stamping of feet on the floor was something to be pleased or embarrassed about.

Encores over, Diamanda walked to the front of the stage and bowed slightly three times, centre, left, and right. We cheered and clapped, and then she smiled and walked off stage with music in her moves, waving good-bye.

1 comment:

Mary said...

Aww, so sorry to have missed it but thank you for the write up! Damn being sick.