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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 7, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 14
Going all the way: Diamanda Galás
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Going all the way: Diamanda Galás

by Jessica Price - SGN A&E Writer

DIAMANDA GALÁS
NEPTUNE THEATRE
March 31


Extraordinary avant-garde vocalist/pianist/artist Diamanda Galás launched a rare six-date US tour March 31 at Seattle's Neptune, marking her first performances outside of New York or Europe in years. At 61 years old Galás' otherworldly talent burns brighter than ever on a just released pair of new albums as well: All the Way, interpreting jazz and blues standards as only she can, and At Saint Thomas the Apostle Harlem, a blistering live recording of 'death songs' from the singer's May 2016 concert at a church in Harlem.

Performing in places of spiritual significance is not unusual for Diamanda, whose confrontational artistry took root during the conservative Reagan years. The AIDS crisis was raging, ignored by politicians, while the 'War On Drugs' became the token cause of the religious right. Talk shows reigned supreme with specials on Satanism and the demise of the American family. It was during this chapter of American hypocrisy that Diamanda's 1982 debut album The Litanies of Satan was released, and within four years she lost her brother, playwright Philip-Dimitri Galás, to AIDS. Diamanda was an outspoken human rights and AIDS activist before and after his death. As an early member of ACT UP she was arrested during the 'Stop The Church' protest at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in 1989 in opposition to the pope's anti-AIDS education stance. The operatic trilogy of The Masque of the Red Death, The Divine Punishment & Saint of the Pit and You Must Be Certain of the Devil chronicled the agony of people suffering from AIDS and quickly gained cult status through her ferocious, blood-curdling delivery and terrifyingly bloody performances. In the intervening years Galás forged a long and uncompromising career, collaborating frequently with filmmakers and like-minded artists on the fringe, her vocals developing to a level and range far beyond the abilities of the world's most gifted singers. Ear-splitting wails metamorphose into deep, ominous chants in the span of a syllable. Had she chosen a conventional path in opera or rock n' roll she could have been a household name, but this was never her motivation. Diamanda has remained an iconoclast: the dark horse of all divas.

Given this illustrious history, Diamanda's Seattle appearance created quite a fervor among her followers, as evidenced by the sold out performance at the Neptune. Diamanda took the stage a few minutes after 9pm with no opener and a simple red spotlight, her waist-length jet-black hair piled high atop her head, befitting the grande dame she is today. Without looking at or addressing the audience she took a seat at her piano and began to play. What followed was just over an hour of electrifying, bone-chilling, impassioned singing that slipped effortlessly between multiple languages and styles, demonstrating the mature power of her four-octave range. Aside from French and Spanish, at times she sounded as if she was chanting in Arabic or Greek - which she may well have been - as she visited selections from All the Way and more. A brilliant pianist, Diamanda conjured every bit of sound and texture from her instrument as she prevailed upon it.

At first Diamanda didn't interact with the audience at all, only nodding curtly a few songs into the set. During each pause she completely turned at the waist to drink water out of view. Gradually, the overwhelmingly positive reaction of the crowd seemed to feed her energy and loosen her up. At one point, she stopped mid-song to fling sheet music to the floor and finally spoke: 'Sorry, I'm not doing that one tonight - too dreary,' a comment which elicited giddy laughter from the house. Reaching an unhinged crescendo in 'O Death,' she repeatedly bellowed 'nothin' satisfies me but your soul...NOPE!' and then eased into a somewhat tongue-in-cheek delivery of her bluesy new album closer 'Pardon Me I've Got Someone to Kill.' Without further ado she stood and faced the audience, smiled graciously, and was gone - the entire 60-70 minutes seeming to pass in the blink of an eye.

There's a lot to digest when listening to Diamanda's records, some are indeed nearly unlistenable by conventional standards. Her true power is evident in her live performances, where she rips savage emotion and otherworldly sounds from the depths of her soul in a way few artists dare to (or are capable of). It's an experience like no other. From her experimental beginnings to the present day, the legacy of Diamanda's singular vision has become clear: it is the most extreme artists that push the boundaries of artistic expression in any medium. Without them, our eyes and ears would be forever asleep.

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