I moved to Montreal about a month ago, from the much-smaller city of Christchurch, New Zealand, and it’s still a novelty to me living in a city where things actually happen. To wit: when I heard the Italian prog band Goblin - best known for their scores to the horror films of Dario Argento - had a show coming up, my initial response was a reflexive “they’re coming here?!” But obviously they were; it’s a real city, after all. So I headed out to the Fairmount Theatre, sick as a dog at the onset of winter, to see one of the most unique film composition teams perform live.
Goblin has seen many incarnations over the years, on record as well as touring, and even today you could see any one of multiple versions of the band, depending on where and when you see them. This show featured the most complete, most “original” lineup that can be assembled these days, barring the use of reanimated corpses. The Suspiria-Dawn of the Dead-Contamination era of the band was represented by guitarist Massimo Morante, keyboardist Maurizio Guarini, bassist Fabio Pignatelli, and drummer Agostino Marangolo. With the exception of newer touring keyboardist Aidan Zammit, the band is most definitely a bunch of old Italian dudes at this point, but that didn't hold them back: they delivered an incredible, loud-as-fuck set displaying all the musical elements that make them the cult legends they are.
If you’re unfamiliar with Goblin and their music: they’re full-blown late-’70s prog-rock, filtered through the horror movies that made them household names (in cool households). Analog synths, unusual key signatures and chord progressions, and atmospheric sonic landscapes dominate their back catalogue, with many pieces pulling off whiplash-inducing transitions between, for example, oppressive wall-of-sound organ music and funky borderline-disco beats. Their influence can be felt subtly throughout film music, including most recently (and most prominently) Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar score.
On stage, the band isn’t particularly showy - again, these are old guys, probably more comfortable tinkering in the studio than on the road. Morante remained seated for most of the show, for example, eschewing theatrics for precision in his complex guitar work. Since much of the band’s eclectic sound comes from its use of synths, the two keyboardists were able to create a full-sounding palette into which the remarkably tight traditional three-piece of Morante, Pignatelli, and Marangolo could drop their work. I’d love to have seen what was going on behind the scenes on those synthesisers.
Predictably, what the audience applauded loudest for were the movie themes. The band opened with a trio of pieces from later-era Argento film Sleepless - a film I've never seen, but whose score’s ominous synths and chunky guitar made a suitably theatrical opener. A suite from Dawn of the Dead contained both the film's thundering, suitably apocalyptic main theme, and its frantic action music, ending with a small and touching tribute to George A. Romero. Tenebre was a highlight - it's probably my favourite piece of main title music in all of cinema - with Zammit singing its catchy main riff into a vocoder. The Contamination theme nearly matched it, its bouncing bassline providing one of the more relaxed and danceable moments of the show. The rhythm section took a break for a quieter piece from Buio Omega, before returning for a rocked-up suite from Profondo Rosso filled with rock riffs and discordant keyboard stabs. And as anyone might expect, the main set concluded with the loudest renditions of Suspiria's main themes imaginable, a cacophony of amplified whispers, synths, drums, and mandolin.
It must be strange being a band like Goblin, in that they're so well-known for their film scores that their original albums barely get a look-in from the public. It's a shame: the band played two tracks from the terrific 1976 album Roller (“Dr. Frankenstein” and the killer title track), and some newer material, like the bleak pseudo-rocker “In the Name of Goblin,” all twisty guitar solos, mono synth runs, and extreme dynamic shifts. The encore, too, was an original track, from the concept album Il Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark; while an epic ‘70s prog close to the show, featuring arpeggiated chords nicked from “Baba O’Riley” and maybe the only sung vocals in the set, it simply wasn’t known to most of the audience. Still, a generous performance from a band I never expected to see live.
It’s worth mentioning the makeup of the crowd gathered at the Fairmount. Ranging from crusty old men who likely saw the old Argento films as grown-ass adults in the ‘70s, and who now find themselves in their own 70s, to youths (like me, I guess) nostalgic for movies made before they were born, the crowd was surprisingly enthusiastic - but that's what cult fame gets you. Watching people try to dance to Goblin’s odd rhythms was intriguing by itself, and I could've done without the dudes trying to sing along to instrumental music, but it was the goth lady reaching for the heavens during the Dawn of the Dead and Suspiria suites that really got to me. Between her glazed expression and clutching, writhing body language, it looked like she was trying to raise the dead.
If music has that power, Goblin would be the band to do it.