Diamanda Galás Live at Pace University, Saturday, September 10, 2005

Finally seeing Diamanda Galás perform after years of missing shows (too expensive,  not motivated enough),  reading interviews,  listening to snatches of her music, I was grateful the audience was quiet, and that she hasn't tamed her style to banter with the crowd and break down the barrier between stage and seating. 

It was a great performance, despite the staid venue and some poorly handled  lighting (undergrad theater students at the conrols apparently). The strobe effect was blown by other lights remaining on, but  Diamanda was so strong in her presence and singing,  that it really didn't matter.

Though Defixiones relates to the Turkish slaughter of the Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians between 1914 and 1923, there was nothing emotionally manipulative in the music—it doesn't even urge pity for the weak and dead.  She raged, her face so plastic and mobile at times she looked like a toothless old mourner or a priestess of some austere faith, Martha Graham singing. Watching her features convulse as she shaped sound through her mouth and sinus was like looking at a larynx flexing on stage.  From a throaty rasp to a soprano ululation, her voice held up across her well-known octave range.  The mere admiration of her virtuoso qualities kept my interest through the first part of the performance.

During the next part, she took her two microphones and moved forward  kneeling, radiating a presence which she pushed out into the audience as she loomed over them, microphones like Taiko drumsticks in either hand. From where I was sitting, she'd been no more than a huddled form at the piano half the time time with her back to me. Standing in her shroud, body all angles, she became an idol stepping out of its sanctuary. 

Much of this program can be heard on the first CD on the Defixiones release, however, the set has  evolved. New pieces "The Graves of Our Ancestors," "Lament for Marmara," "Among the Bones," "The Old Man," and "Mr. Stratis Thalassinos Describes a Man" have been added, taking on a new theme with almost industrial backing rhythms, while the second CD, Songs of Exile has been completely removed from the program.

Galás talks about her work taking on a shamanistic, superhuman quality—this point when she moved towards the audience was the moment when it shifted from singing as other women sing to something else entirely. When she ended it, retreating back into the stage, she blinded the audience with light erupting behind her, a visual pain for what we'd seen.