Here’s a blast from the past: Italian prog-rock outfit Goblin performs “Mad Puppet” from Dario Argento’s 1975 giallo film Deep Red. The memorable track – with its hypnotic, ostinato bass line – gets an enjoyable workout on stage – close to the original recording but with some additional live flair, particularly from Fabio Pignatelli’s bass intro (which suggests echos of Yes bass guitarist Chris Squire live staple, “The Fish”).
This video is from Goblin’s May 3, 2014 concert at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, which showed the group in top form nearly four decades after its debut. The elder statesmen of suspenseful soundtracks offered a varied set list of familiar movie music and obscure album tracks, all of which were warmly welcomed by the ecstatic audience. The elaborate instrumental soundscapes (composed of elaborate keyboard textures, wild guitar solos, syncopated drum rhythms, and melodic bass lines) were rendered not only with virtuoso skill but also with energetic enthusiasm. The music felt as fresh as the day it was composed – not like something exhumed from the crypt and artificially jolted to life.
For those keeping track, this concert was part of Goblin’s third U.S. tour within a one-year period – not bad for a group that had virtually disbanded after making its name in the ’70s and ’80s with work on such films as Suspiria and Dawn of the Dead. Goblin began its professional career under the moniker Cherry Five in the early 1970s, producing a single, self-titled album that announced not only their influences (Yes, Genesis, ELP) but also their own unique take on the progressive rock form (the track listing includes such titles as “Country Grave-Yard,” “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and “The Swan is a Murderer” (Parts 1 and 2!), the later of which opens with an eerie ambient sound collage of wind, wailing, and sound effects.
When asked to score Deep Red, the group changed its name to the more appropriate Goblin, dumped the lead singer, and went full instrumental, with a lineup consisting of Massimo Morante on guitar, Claudio Simonetti on keyboards, Fabio Pignatelli on bass, and Walter Martino on drums; Agostino Marangolo replaced Martino late in the recording process, completing two tracks. This foursome became the “classic” lineup for the next several years, with the occasional addition of second keyboardist Maurizio Guaraini, who performed on the group’s 1975 non-soundtrack album, Roller.
After years of defections and inactivity, the Morante-Simonetti-Pignatelli-Marangolo lineup reunited to record the soundtrack for Argento’s 2001 thriller Sleepless (known as Non ho sonno in its native Italy). Four years later, Goblin released another album, Back to the Goblin, which featured Guarini instead of Simonetti. Several concerts followed, with different members jumping in and out. Eventually, the band was asked to come to the U.S. and provide live accompaniment to some of their films, including an October 2013 gig the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, playing in synch with Suspiria.
That lineup consisted of Morante, Simonetti, and Guarini with a new rhythm section. For the 2014 tour, bassist Pignatelli and drummer Marangolo returned; keyboardist Simonetti was replaced with guest musician Steve Moore (of Zombi, which had opened for Goblin during their previous tour).
If this brief history is more convoluted than you care to follow, its presence serves to provide a better understanding of what aficionados expected from the show at the Henry Fonda Theatre. In its original form, Goblin had been a perfect blend of contributions from all participants; then Simonetti’s synthesizers gradually took over, reducing the other members to back-up musician status. To some extent, this approach was resumed with the Non ho sonno soundtrack, but Back to the Goblin – on which Simonetti did not appear – returned to a more balanced sound.
Consequently, the May 3, 2014 show in Hollywood was an ideal opportunity to hear the Morante-Guarini-Pignatelli-Marangolo version of Goblin performing as a equals. In interviews, they would refer to themselves as “four of the five original members,” which was a bit of a stretch: they were four of the five members who had appeared on Roller; only Morante and Pignatelli dated from Goblin’s birth.
Still, an awareness of this history makes sense of the performance that night, which avoided an obligatory run through all of their most famous main title cues in favor of equally enchanting but less well-known cuts, many of which were not part of their famous soundtrack repertoire. In fact, the group ended up performing nearly the entirety of Roller, an album that is atypical not only because it is not a film score but also because it features more of a jazz-rock fusion sound. The result was a satisfying evening of music that did not depend upon audience memories of film images to sustain interest.
The show was divided into two halves, separated by an intermission. Part 1 featured mostly unexpected choices; Part 2 finally delivered the expected cues from Goblin’s cult movies. The set list was as follows:
- Magic Thriller (from Back to the Goblin)
- Mad Puppet (from Deep Red)
- Roller (from Roller)
- Dr. Frankenstein (from Roller)
- E Suono Rock (Il Fantastico Viaggio Del “Bagarozzo” Mark)
- Non Ho Sonno (from Non Ho Sonno – this was actually a medley of the title track and another, similar cue from the film)
- Aquaman (from Roller)
- Goblin (from Roller)
- Dawn of the Dead (title track from Dawn of the Dead)
- Zombi (from Dawn of the Dead)
- Tenebre (title track from Tenebre)
- Suspiria (title track from Suspiria)
- Profondo Rosso (title track from Deep Red)
- Encore: Zarastrom (from Dawn of the Dead)
Standout moments included the opening “Magic Thriller” (which benefited from being a more recent album original, not an overly familiar soundtrack cue); “Mad Puppet”; and “E Suono Rock.” On the latter, guest Steve Moore played the moody saxophone line and sang the upper-range wordless vocal, before transitioning back to keyboards. (This was pretty much the only singing that evening, as Goblin avoided the vocal tracks from their one concept album, Il Fantastico Viaggio Del “Bagarozzo” Mark.)
In some ways, the highlight of the evening was the self-titled track “Goblin,” a twelve-minute mini-epic that moves through several passages, alternately emphasizing guitar-based rock and more lyrical synthesizer passages. The album track is a gem that sounds difficult if not impossible to recreate in front of an audience, but Goblin did pretty much a note-for-note rendition, with nary a hiccup to mar the elaborate structure.
The second half of the show was no anti-climax, however. Audience enthusiasm for the more familiar tracks raised the excitement level several notches, and Goblin wisely chose to end with an encore of “Zarastrom” – a more straight-forward rocker, based around a hard-driving guitar riff and repetitive synth loop, which provided a backdrop for lots of flashy soloing, so that the musicians could get everything they had out of their system before the final curtain.
Opening act Pinkish Black provided some appropriately ominous music. Essentially drums and electronics, the , a two-man outfit offered heavy synth drones backed by hard-hitting rhythmic rumbling.
Note: The version of Goblin that performed during this tour continues to work together, releasing a new album entitled Four of a Kind in July. Another version of Goblin, fronted by Claudio Simonetti, with no other original members, has performed some recent gigs.