Goblin at Texas Theatre, 4/27/14
Everybody that's seen Suspiria has an opinion about Goblin, whether they realize it or not. The Italian prog rock greats have, throughout their career, created some of the most captivating and unnerving music ever put to film. With their work on Suspiria, though, they made what is widely considered the most horrific film score ever produced, a cacophonous nightmare once described as the sound of "500 cats having their tails trampled on in unison."
It's a soundtrack you simply can't ignore, one of those musical rarities that approaches you, dives inside, and then remakes the way you understand music. Whether it's only for two hours or for a lifetime, for good or bad, you're altered. For many, this was the way they came to know Goblin, their gateway to a career's worth of prickly progressive rock. It's also one of the reasons, I suspect, that there's a line of 300 people waiting outside Texas Theatre an hour before show time.
In a fitting twist of fate, worthy of Goblin's aesthetic, Texas was on track to receive storms this weekend. Damaging winds, sheets of rain, lightning -- I worried that any or all of it might prevent me from seeing Goblin's set Sunday night. Like many of you, I spent the bulk of the weekend anticipating this concert. But because of the grim forecast, I spent the rest of the time waiting for the other shoe to drop. They spoke of tornadoes; I kept waiting for the thunder to roll in.
After a few scattered showers, the inclement weather never arrived. Thus, before I knew it, I was headed for Goblin and Texas Theatre. Once inside the venue, I'm met with a breathing mass of black, the trademark Goblin emblem is stamped on every other shirt in the crowd. This darkened tapestry of people gives the unorthodox feel of Texas Theatre a further nudge in an ominous direction. It seems everything is a pale shade of black, shadows jump and sway on each wall. The mood is strange but exciting; the sense of occasion is feverish.
Opener Pinkish Black kick things off with a crawl. It's the synth-heavy, heady metal we've come to expect from the local duo, only on this occasion much more narrow. Last time I saw them their heft nearly shook the beer from my hand. Tonight, they're but a fraction of their usual physicality, their weight of sound is de-weaponized, uneven. Luckily, the sharp mood of fatalism their music communicates still comes through, though, sadly, considerably muted.
A short opening set and one intermission later, and the audience has refilled the theater. Chatter, laughter and a thick tension break once Goblin make their way on stage. As the group man their instruments, a low, droning rumble begins to pour from the speakers. For a moment I thought it was the thunder finally rolling through. Only a few minutes in and it's the saddest thing ever: Goblin are flat and ineffectual. The music is beautiful, but benign. There's no bite here, no exhilarating thrill to thrash up against, just emotionally distant songs that swing in an atypically symmetrical fashion. Like witnesses to some museum exhibit, we sit (sit!) listening and watching, as block after block of music unfolds. It all feels a bit too neat and predetermined. Where's the sting? Where's the drama -- that guttural response Goblin consistently deliver on record?
For me, Goblin have always been the perfect yardstick for gauging someone's taste. There's an indefinable poignancy to their music that demands an emotional response, and so when you play Goblin for someone you always get a glimpse of where they stand musically. You see, somewhere in all their doom and noise there's a nameless center, something gorgeous. Yes, hellish too, but beautiful in the most pleasurably masochistic way -- a shape of chaos that suggests, or represents, something infinite. Something bigger than ourselves. But tonight, for the most part, everything feels small and much too quiet, and thus, anticlimactic.
Goblin's set was essentially split in two parts. The first was primarily comprised of non-film music, with most of the tracks coming from their '76 album Roller, while the second included many of the group's more infamous soundtrack pieces. It's here things began to get more interesting.
Starting with the theme from Dawn of the Dead (or Zombi, as it's known internationally), Goblin found their form. I'm not sure if it was a sound adjustment or just a change in mindset, but the result was noticeably more immediate and exceedingly more satisfying. The band loosened up, showed their charms and the audience quickly followed suit. A brilliant rendition of the title track from Suspiria hit soon thereafter; it was the highlight of the evening. There was a moment in there where I caught a glimpse of the visionaries I had expected to see all along, and it was as moving as it was sonically impressive. Aglow with globular synths, punishing percussion and throaty chants, Goblin's sound bloomed here, just as it does on record, in wrathful silhouettes. Like the colors on their album jackets, the music swirled with blacks and reds.
Maybe my expectations for the night were too high, maybe Texas Theatre just isn't properly rigged to host such events (I imagine it's a little bit of both), but Goblin weren't the full-roar hell machine I'd hoped for. Even when the band hit their stride, they were but a caricature of the legendary figures I envisioned -- the men that cut new dividing lines in the history of film music. That visceral shock singular to Goblin -- the poignancy they so elusively embody elsewhere -- never did show its face.
On the drive home, as I replayed the events in my head, lightning could be seen in the sky, shrouded in cloud, painting hazy pockmarks in the sky. And then, wouldn't you know it, two hours too late, that thunder finally rolled in.
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