Friday, March 2, 2012

Diamanda Galas – Museum of Contemporary Art – 2/25/2012

Cracky got a Kindle from Kris Kringle for Christmas. And I also overdo the alliteration any time I get the chance. Between skee-ball tournaments and pickling hard-boiled eggs for the corner tavern, I stay pretty busy and lose track of any books I’m reading and where I left off. The Kindle has kept me more focused, more efficient and somehow even more hygienic. It’s truly a miracle device.

One of the books I’ve been reading is "Get In The Van" by Henry Rollins, which is essentially his journal from his days in Black Flag in the early 80’s. At this stage in the book, he’s living in a shed, largely withdrawn, and not talking to anyone very much. So, yeah, living just like Cracky. However, there is but one person with whom he likes hanging out, exchanging letters and even talking on the phone: Diamanda Galas. I had never heard of her, but I was intrigued enough to check her out and stalk her online. Since she has a Wikipedia entry and music on Spotify, it was much easier than stalking that woman on the bus. But I digress.

Allow me to quote three lines from Wikipedia:

Galás has been described as "capable of the most unnerving vocal terror", with her three and a half octave vocal range. She often screams, hisses and growls. Her works largely concentrate on the topics of AIDS, mental illness, despair, injustice, condemnation, and loss of dignity.


Fast forward a couple days and I’m flipping through Time Out magazine around 3 a.m. on a Friday night trying to find the best place in Chicago to get my chest waxed when who should I see peering back at me from the pages of the magazine but Diamanda Galas herself. She’s in town and performing on the 23rd! Shit, that was yesterday. Why couldn’t I have gotten the urge to wax my chest a couple days earlier? Wait! Another show on the 25th! Tomorrow. Sweet! Argh, sold out.

I decided to head down to the MCA early when the doors opened to get on the wait list, and when I arrived they had exactly one solitary ticket left. I pushed the sickly looking goths in front of me out of the way and threw my cash on the counter. Good thing I had turned down that transvestite on the corner who asked me if I needed a date.

It was my first trip to the surprisingly minimalist yet functional MCA theater. The lone grand piano, stool, and monitors on the simply lit stage were a perfect compliment to the space.

Diamanda came out in black tights and black fringed chemise, not nearly as goth as half her audience, yet reminding me of a Greek, slightly goth Beth Hart. She took a seat, got her sheet music in order and plowed right into the first chords. Oh, yeah, she’s a badass pianist. I would have paid just to see her play piano, probably because I don’t understand the value of a dollar, but I’m a sucker for piano music and women musicians the same way other people love kittens with baggies full of crack. Crack kittens.

But unlike the mythical crack kittens, Diamanda has experimented and trained her voice unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. I’d say her voice is a cross between Maria Callas, Nick Cave, Lydia Lunch, and John Lee Hooker. Her vocals are like a clown car… you can’t believe all those sounds are coming out of one human, or any human. The fact that it’s all happening while she’s pounding out these intricate melodies and rhythms on piano nearly made my head explode. I think I heard a couple heads explode in the back, after which they were asked to leave for disturbing the artist.

The songs ranged from covers of old spiritual tunes (“Let My People Go”) to original music set to early 20th century Greek poetry and Italian suicide poems to complete originals from her 80’s trilogy based on the AIDS epidemic.

I once worked on a job site where the risk of explosion was so high that the walls were cinder block, but there was a light tin roof above so that the force of any explosion would be directed upwards. Diamanda’s performances would work well in a room like this. If you’re feeling brave enough, step inside and be prepared to be blown away. Once you clear the tin roof, you might enjoy the ride. The rest of you may be better off staying on the other side of those walls. I went inside and Cracky’s alive. Very alive.

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