A lot of the bands that emerged from the 1970s UK punk scene are quite content to rest on their laurels, acting out an endless cycle of break-ups and make-ups, going out on the road at regular intervals to churn through the hits one more time for fans too old to rebel against anything or too young to realize they're stuck in their grandfathers' revolution.
Not so for Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie, the husband-and-wife musical duo who are at the center of the Banshees and also comprise their own band, the Creatures. The two have kept their bands fresh and creative, evolving from one release to the next. As the Banshees got more pop, the Creatures got more tribal and avant-garde. Both acts also transitioned toward dance music, adopting electronic sounds and processed beats. It hasn't always worked, but it's usually been interesting.
In 2004, rather than hit the regular club circuit and trot out a greatest-hits set, risking sounding more like a karaoke act than a viable band, Siouxsie and Budgie teamed up with the Millennia Ensemble and once more adapted their songs, this time to accommodate brass and strings. They set up shop at the Royal Festival Hall in London and recorded the results for Siouxsie: Dreamshow. In addition to the Ensemble and Budgie on drums, they expanded the percussion section, using two players from the Ensemble and Leonard Eto, a Japanese taiko drummer. This meant putting most of the weight on Budgie's unique, internationally flavored rhythms but enhancing them with more classical trappings.
The set for the show, which runs over two hours, trawls through the full career of both of the duo's bands. Not surprisingly, the Creatures material leans heavier to the more sparse arrangements, placing a greater emphasis on the percussive elements. Songs like "Godzilla!" and "Miss the Girl" have an almost Spartan appeal, while even songs that have a fuller sound on record, such as "Standing There," are stripped back to fit the live arena. For the Banshees songs, however, they take full advantage of the expanded backing. "Kiss Them For Me," "The Rapture," and their Beatles cover, "Dear Prudence," all sound full and rich, getting added keyboard effects from Kristopher Pooley and guitars from Knox Chandler (late of Dave Gahan's solo band). Even some of the more dancey Creatures tunes, like "2nd Floor," get the bigger-and-better treatment. The result is more than a by-rote nostalgia trip, but familiar songs reimagined, recontextualized, and reinvigorated.
Of course, regardless of what band name they are performing under, the star is going to be Siouxsie herself. An icon for many, her voice is as powerful as it ever was. Whether going for the loud, broad yelping in "Say Yes!" or the more subtle and hypnotic tones she conjures through her Kaa the Snake impression on the cover of "Trust in Me," Siouxsie sounds amazing. She's also amazing to look at, decked out in elaborate and colorful variations of kimonos, wild ribbons tied into her hair. Some of her dance moves seem constrained when boxed into a television tube, but as a performer, she never gives it less than her all. A couple tracks go flat for her ("Kiss Them For Me," for one), but even then she gets back on course rather quickly.
Funnily enough, for all the flourishes the Millennia Ensemble adds to the songs, the best part of Siouxsie: Dreamshow is the encore, a four-song block of some of their biggest hits that feels more conventional than the main set list. The atmosphere loosens up some, with the strings taking center stage for "Face to Face" before the more standard run-throughs of "Cities in Dust" and "Spellbound." The party really gets going for "Peek-a-Boo," though, with the addition of an accordion player and the violins working double-time to deliver the song's screechy hooks. Even at the extended length of the show, it feels like the band is only just getting started, and I wouldn't have cried foul if they had kept going.
The full set list:
Around The World
Miss The Girl
Kiss Them For Me
But Not Them
Trust In Me
Face To Face
Cities In Dust
The filming of Siouxsie: Dreamshow is quite lovely. Cameras are set up at various vantage points, and there is a nice mix of long shots and close-ups that keeps the performance moving. The show is well-lit and the colors come across vividly. The picture itself is presented in widescreen and enhanced for 16:9 TVs. My only complaint would be that some of the use of the backdrop images as overlays for the main performance came off as a little cheesy and unnecessary.
The DVD sound is exquisite, with both 5.1 and 2.0 mixes to choose from. The mix is very well done, with a good balance of the various musical elements.
The main concert is also subtitled in English.
There are several bonus features on Siouxsie: Dreamshow. The first are five songs recorded at a warm-up show in a small club the week before the main program. It's a more regular-sized band, without the Millennia Ensemble, and a much more lo-fi recording, shot from the audience with a couple of cameras and what sounds like on-site audio. The result is a tad more bootleggy in feel, but the rawness works with the setting, and we get one classic Banshees number not played at the Festival Hall.
1) Hong Kong Garden
3) 2nd Floor
4) Happy House
5) Not Forgotten
An additional song was recorded in full at the soundcheck before the Festival Hall show, and there is a little over four minutes of rehearsal footage where the musicians work out various bits sans vocals. The whole event, from the club dates to the big finale is then discussed by Siouxsie and Budgie in an interview that runs 11 minutes, 20 seconds.
Siouxsie: Dreamshow is a rare, one-of-a-kind performance of old Banshees and Creatures classics performed with an orchestral backing. Siouxsie Sioux is still electrifying onstage, and she sounds fantastic running through an eclectic selection of songs from her long and varied career. Highly Recommended. This DVD is definitely something any fan will want to seek out, and if you've never really understood the Siouxsie and the Banshees appeal or given them a shot, this unique showcase could be a good place to start. The presentation is more sophisticated, but the passion of the artistry remains intact.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.