A meager crowd of only 150 or so at this event could only be chalked up to a lack of name brand recognition, because once I told people that the driving forces behind the Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance were playing at the intimate Venue night club in Vancouver, I instantly had a posse of six to accompany me. I now regret not starting the recruiting drive weeks earlier.
Robin Guthrie (Cocteaus minus Liz Fraser) and Brendan Perry (DCD minus Lisa Gerrard) are the Bjorn and Benny of the 4AD set: the men behind the women and the driving forces behind a now-iconic genre. You can peg their distinctive, atmospheric vibes in two notes, even if you can’t remember a song or album title.
Unfortunately, I missed the first part of opener Guthrie’s set, not anticipating a 9pm sharp start at a bar gig. Nevertheless, despite being an instrumentalist, the lushness and depth of the ambience he seduces out of his guitar musically encroaches heaven on earth (aka Las Vegas).
Augmented visually by a trippy, cloud-laden backdrop – like a PowerPoint presentation on steroids – the overall effect when combined with Guthrie’s lush sound was overwhelming and enrapturing. While I had assumed he would be solo, the addition of a rhythm section both grounded and augmented the surreal, transcendental element of the set, which was meant to promote Guthrie’s latest aural offering, Emeralds.
Guthrie, however, did dispatch his cohorts at the set’s end and single-handedly demonstrated – literally – what a force beyond nature he is.
As a reflex, I want to say that Guthrie’s Cocteau Twins partner Fraser was missed, but that would be an outright lie. Robin, although not much to look at, produced music of such stature that he overshadowed his own Cocteau’s legacy, actualizing the credo of “letting the music do the talking.”
That same reflex informed me that I should miss Lisa Gerrard once Brendan Perry took the stage, and again this impulse was misguided. My fears of Perry channeling too much Gordon Lightfoot were likewise unmerited. I’m not sure how the tour is structured, but on this night it makes complete sense that the artist with vocals gets top billing.
Where one floated in space somewhat with Guthrie, Perry’s vocals are strong and guiding, like the lighthouse on the cover of his latest, Ark. Supposedly the impetus of this tour, Ark tracks seemed to be almost an afterthought, with only a trio of songs from it inserted at the very end of the set: “This Boy, “Wintersun,” and “Utopia.”
With Perry’s commanding voice and presence coupled with the atmospheric washes and symphonic waves, all three tracks demanded rapt attention, and the crushing response to the closer was as much for its singular merit as it was for the whole set.
The vast wingspan of the setlist hit most of Perry’s artistic milestones, from opulent Dead Can Dance standouts “Severance,” “The Carnival is Over” and “Spirit,” a sublime cover of Tim Buckley’s Starsailor classic “Song To The Siren” (previously covered by 4AD vets This Mortal Coil) and the brazen inclusion of new, unreleased tracks “Icarus,” and the opener, “Tree of Life.”
These new songs were strong and not out of place, demonstrating Perry’s unerring confidence in his abilities as a songwriter. As a guitarist, Perry similarly knew his strengths, absolutely shredding DCD’s “A Passage in Time.”
Oddly, as the BPM of most tracks was only marginally above that of a narcoleptic coma, the 14-song set still went by too fast, and other than something, anything from his Perry’s first solo album, Eye of the Hunter, we were left wanting for nothing.
–Chris “Gutter” Rose