On Saturday night, Portishead’s Adrian Utley, Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, and a small orchestra performed the duo’s haunting soundtrack to Carl Theodore Dreyer’s harrowing 1928 film The Passion of Joan Of Arc at New York’s Alice Tully Hall, marking the first time the piece was performed in America.
So, how did it sound?: Complementing a film with a 17-minute opening scene, their score didn’t exactly have a lot of ups and downs, but instead leaned more towards slow builds and hypnotic rhythms. Think less Bernard Hermann string stabs and more like a six-guitar orchestra playing the world’s biggest Mogwai song. In a chat afterwards, Utley praised the film for its linear narrative — its 83-minute runtime is basically the parade of indignities suffered by history’s second-most-famous martyr, from trial to execution — and they definitely treated the film as an open canvas, allowing slow crescendos of harp and Reich-gone-Medieval choral parts to lay low and set the mood in minor keys.
The best part: For such a gut-wrenching, emotionally rich film, it was probably difficult for Utley and Gregory not to lean a little exploitative during the gory parts. They didn’t always succeed, but the night’s more “metal” moments were the most propulsive anyway. The introduction of the torture chamber included a 7/8 percussion pulse and bassy tones that felt like a sneak attack from Neurosis. The churning, guitar army stroked furiously during (history class spoiler!) her public execution, turning a scene full of falling corpses and swung maces into a microtonal black metal bloodfeast.
Sleaziest moment: Gregory’s Chinese oboe solo tried to go Medieval on our asses, but sounded more like Miami Vice.
MVP: Utley poking and prodding and bowing his guitar, trying to get any sound out of it besides a chord. When he would strum it, you could see him bending the neck, trying to get an uneasy wooze like a seasick Morricone.
Indie-rock crisis of the evening: Telling your friends you’re “going to see Joan of Arc,” and them replying, “They’re still together?”