Diamanda Galás’ appearance at the Barbican in the midst of an oppressive London heatwave is intimate and terrifying- and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The first thing to notice is the sheer variety of the audience- a mix of goth queens, metalheads, people with dresses and glittered cheekbones (regardless of gender) and the occasional PVC- clad pretty thing. Basically, the crowd looks like the cast of Nightbreed and I am seriously underdressed, coming as I did straight from work on a black t- shirt and jeans.
Galás is in town to play songs from her two recent albums, At Saint Thomas the Apostle Harlem (a live album) and All the Way (reinterpretations of standards). I haven’t listened to them, so I am going to this completely blank. She comes on stage in a long, flowing pitch black gown. She looks like the epitome of goth as she makes her way through the dark to her spotlighted piano, but there is nothing self- conscious or romantic in what follows. Galás intersperses songs about pain and death with her own poetry and the results are otherwordly and rather challenging. Her voice can go from a Marianne Faithful- style croak to searing mezzo soprano heights and back to demonic death growls (it’s pretty obvious why metal people like her). Some of the songs get mangled beyond recognition (eg., Jacques Brel’s Fernand), some are exhilarating (the Mexican traditional La Llorona) and some leave you bewildered via cultural associations that you didn’t know were there (Anoixe Petra). It’s harrowing, life- affirming stuff and everyone should put themselves through the experience.