A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Dirty Three - Queen Elizabeth Hall - 07/12/09

I was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall earlier this month to see The Dirty Three. I had seen them play the Barbican a few years ago as part of the Don’t Look Back series (on that occasion performing ‘Ocean Songs’ in its entirety). Support came from ex-Lift To Experience man Josh Pearson who played a set of lo-fi, acoustic, country influenced songs, half-whispered, half-mumbled but never less than beautiful.

It was Pearson who perhaps came up with the best way of introducing The Dirty Three – “like the universe unfolding before your eyes”. A good way of describing the sheer scale, intensity and beauty of their music.

Their live shows are always fraught, intense affairs and tonight was no different, their instrumental music sounding ravaged and ransacked, desolate and desperate. The introductions by frontman Warren Ellis are just as good, often rambling but always funny and moving.

Arriving on stage to ecstatic cheers from the audience, Ellis introduces the opening song with a reference to their recent appearance at the All Tomorrow Parties festival, (I am paraphrasing somewhat here, but will do my best to remember) as being about “being cooked like a sausage in a room at Butlin’s and not knowing how to switch the heating off, with your suitcase up against the door and reaching over to call your wife…....and tell her....…that you like her…....and say…....you are…....The Last Horse On The Sand” at which stage the band start to play. Spine-tingling.

After removing his jacket and discarding it to the side of the stage Ellis starts to launch wild kicks into the air as he staggers around the stage playing violin. Occasionally he augments Jim White’s drumming (more of which, later) by stamping on the ground. Each kick or stamp adds to the sense of desperation evoked by the music and has a personal physical impact on me.

To begin Jim White had placed a tambourine on top of one of his drums to add another layer of percussion to his already skittering, dislocated, flattened drumming style. As he hits it the tambourine rolls on to the floor right next to Ellis who immediately kicks it, sending it flying to the side of the stage. During the show White’s drums need to be repaired at least three times (as he and the band play on). The soundman also comes on to collect yet another stray tambourine from the stage floor at one stage. The sheer energy on stage is breathtaking, the band appearing to be in a state permanently close to implosion, yet somehow manage to hold it together.

The second song is ‘Some Summers They Drop Like Flies’, and possibly is where the searing emotional intensity of tonight’s show reaches it’s climax. Ellis stands in front the drums, arms aloft, transcendent, totally in thrall to the music. Half way through the song he lies on the floor, still playing his violin, as the guitar and drums build around him. By the time the song closes he is flat on his back on the floor and the sound dies away. If someone was to enter the QEH at this point they could quite reasonably assume that he had been shot by one of his band.

The band play ‘Sea Above, Sky Below’, introduced by Ellis as a song about when you spend the last 15 years belieiving your are right and the world is wrong…and then realising that the world is actually more wrong that you originally though. ‘Everything Is Fucked’ is played next, introduced by Ellis as when you spend 5 years in a hole and rather than get out decide to decorate the hole….

The introductions and between song talk are always delivered in a humourous, self-deprecating manner. Lots of reference to drugs also, particularly glue and lysergic acid (seemingly particular favourites of Ellis).

They finish by playing ‘Some Things I Just Don’t Want To Know’ during which Ellis lets out some anguished shouts, a suitably primal and visceral ending. As we leave the hall Gram Parsons plays out over the venue PA. Nice. An exhilaratingly intense show. Definitely up there with Mercury Rev at Shepherd's Bush Empire and Godspeed! You Black Emperor at the Scala in terms of impact and power.

No comments: