Last Friday, I was given the opportunity to witness an event that, until then, had seemed like an impossibility. Indeed, for the vast majority of horror fans throughout the world, it still remains a frustrating impossibility. Even saying it now after the fact gives me chills. Over two sold out shows at the ACMI, Italian prog rock royalty, Goblin, performed their seminal score to Dario Argento’s, ‘Suspiria’ live, while the film played overhead. To say it was a rare event would be a gross understatement. Up until last Friday, Goblin had never performed the entire score live, let alone while the film played.
It seems foolish to give you much background about Goblin or ‘Suspiria’. If you’re the sort of person who reads Mondo Exploito, you are intimately familiar with both. For those who somehow aren’t aware, Goblin started in 1972 using the moniker ‘Cherry Five’ and consisted of Claudio Simonetti (keyboards), Massimo Morante (guitars), Fabio Pignatelli (bass guitar) and Walter Martino (drums). They recorded several demos and were not particularly well-known. In 1975, Goblin entered into an arrangement with composer, Giorgio Gaslini who was working on a little film called ‘Profondo Rosso’ (Deep Red). Goblin were originally drafted as little more than session musicians, but Dario Argento, who back then (although it’s hard to believe these days) was still a good director, decided to give Goblin a shot at composing the score. The results were stunning, the band officially changed their name from Cherry Five to Goblin and the rest, as they say, is history. The ‘Profondo Rosso’ LP went on to sell over one million copies and remains one of the most-loved horror movie scores in history.
This fortuitous relationship spawned an amazing period for Goblin, who provided several more scores for Argento’s greatest cinematic achievements, including the highly regarded masterpiece, ‘Suspiria’ in 1977. This period of creativity ended in 1978 following the score for ‘Dawn of Dead’ when the band split.
One could happily end the story right there. Important bands form only to split up a short while later all the time. There’s an argument to be made for bands to cease performing at their peak. It prevents their legacy being sullied. Perhaps Argento should have followed suit, but, as anyone who has seen ‘The Card Player’ will tell you, he did not.
In 2000, Goblin reformed to provide the score for one of Argento’s better films in his largely dismal post-‘Opera’ period, ‘Sleepless’. The soundtrack was very warmly received and the reformed band was scheduled to play live, but the driving force that had heralded their split was still alive, and these shows never eventuated. This was to remain the status quo right up to 2009, when the band reformed again to accompany the release of their biography, ‘BackToTheGoblin’. Over the next few years, the lineup would chop and change, eventually becoming what I was lucky enough to witness last week.
When Goblin was announced as the headlining act for Melbourne Music Week a few months ago, horror fans throughout the city collectively lost their shit. Like so many others, I snapped up a ticket to see them do their thing at the Melbourne Town Hall, which promised to include the famous Town Hall pipe organ (which is a sight to behold). Although I was slightly wary at the thought of seeing a group of guys perform diluted prog past their prime, I was too excited at the thought of hearing snatches from my favourite movie scores. It was worth enduring some plodding prog as long as I had a chance to hear the keyboard line from Suspiria’s main theme. Shortly after, ACMI announced that Goblin would be performing the score to ‘Suspiria’ live as a separate event in accompaniment to the film and I lost my shit even more. All of a sudden, the town hall gig didn’t seem quite so important. My heart was now set on ‘Suspiria’.
Much to the dismay of several friends, I opted out of the town hall gig because (pathetically) I was too tired. From all accounts it was a great performance though. The first half contained a lot of the diluted prog I was worried about, but reportedly, the second half was a tour through their most famous film scores. Thankfully, a recording from the gig has been made available and can be downloaded here: http://www.mediafire.com/?26uu5lmaf5gdl94
I won’t pretend I’m not a little disappointed in myself for missing the show, but I’m more than satisfied with what I was able to experience. The screening sold out very shortly after it was announced, which prompted them to announce a second screening immediately after the first, which also sold out. This write-up concerns the first show only, but I’m told the second was also excellent.
Having seen ‘Suspiria’ more times than I can count, both at home and on the big screen, my main interest was in seeing Goblin, so I situated myself toward the front of the cinema. The band was given a brief introduction before taking place behind their instruments. This lineup featured Massimo Morante (bowl mandolin, I think. Please correct me if I’m wrong), Claudio Simonetti (keyboards), Maurizio Guarini (keyboards), Bruno Previtali (bass) and Titta Tani (drums). Seeing Morante and Simonetti sitting mere feet away was, I must admit, very exciting. Without further ado, the open credits of ‘Suspiria’ were projected above us and the magic started.
Before I talk about how excellent Goblin were, I feel I should point out the transfer of the film we were forced to watch, which was HORRIBLE. It’s listed as being sourced from Umbrella Entertainment, which released the Australian edition of the film on DVD, but it’s hard to suggest this transfer even managed DVD quality. At times the pixilation was so bad it appeared as though we were watching a video being streamed on YouTube. In order to be heard over Goblin, the volume was also pumped right up, revealing a low bit-rate warbling and tinny, at times deafening, sound effects. This was disappointing, and as the familiar film played before me, I became far more interested in keeping my gaze directed at Goblin, who sounded superb. I have actually heard a report than during the second screening, iTunes popped on several occasions. That should give you all the information you need about the image quality. Needless to say, very poor.
Thankfully Goblin relegated concerns about the picture quality into the background the second they began to play. Their cues (to my ears at least) were perfect. They meshed with the film in perfect symbiosis, and the second the classic ‘Suspiria’ theme began to untangle from their instruments, I had chills. Reports from some friends (clearly more intimate with the score than I) suggests that on occasion they deviated from the original in slight ways, but I couldn’t tell. Perhaps my favourite moments occurred between the music, when the group sat back and watched the film unfold on small monitors before them. On many occasions, a warm smile punctuated each member’s face, as if they were truly reliving something special. Watching Goblin watch ‘Suspiria’ was a very special and touching moment for me personally.
It’s difficult to give a track-by-track breakdown. They followed the score as one would expect and executed both the melodic and abstract pieces with expertise. It completely carried you away into the one-of-a-kind world that is ‘Suspiria’. Even with the horrible image quality, the effect was still unmistakable. As the final credits rolled, Goblin whipped themselves and the crowd up into a frenzy, extending their blitzed out horror prog for a good while after the screen darkened. The standing ovation they received was entirely earned, and from all accounts, they received the same treatment following the conclusion of the second show a couple of hours later.
As I made my way back home afterward, it took some time to assimilate the fact that I had just seen Goblin perform one of the greatest scores in film history, and they did so only feet away from me. It’s one of those nights I’ll hold close to me. If this event ever occurs again and you reside anywhere near it, do what you can to see it.