I saw Diamanda Galas perform her “Defixiones: Orders from the Dead” at the YBCA last night and wow! I’ve been a fan of her work for many years, and was thrilled to get to see her live (she rarely performs on the west coast).
Production was sparse, with Ms. Galas wearing a full-body black cowl for the first half, and a spare black dress for the second. She moved between 4 stations, 3 for a capella pieces, and one at the piano. Between songs were prerecorded vocalizations and radio recordings, and she did some singing over recorded drones. The half-cross-shaped stage was fog-filled and had just a little spotlighting on Galas. The first 5 minutes were completely dark.
Galas’ vocal range is even more impressive and frightening in person than on her albums and she’s quite adept at using her unique voice as a sonic weapon. Her screams sent shivers down my arms and occasionally hit what I call the “fire alarm frequency,” which bores inside your head and goes straight to the center of your brain.
The couple sitting next to us had apparently decided to come at random and only made it about 30 minutes in before leaving. I can’t imagine what one would think about seeing Diamanda Galas if you weren’t familiar with what she does.
It was not a pleasant concert, but pleasant was definitely not the point in a piece about the genocide of ethnic groups by the Ottoman Turks during the early 20th century! Galas is very evocative, gesturing passionately with her vocal delivery. Many pieces were in foreign languages (Turkish, Italian, and so on), but the emotion was well-conveyed.
She performed straight through for about 90 minutes, with no intermission. Between her unreal music and the very dark stage, I soon lost all sense of time. The only cue that the performance was over was when she slowly walked back onto the stage and bowed.
I’m so glad to have finally seen her live, and will definitely see her anytime she’s back – like her or not, there is nobody quite like her!