Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Alive in the City of Sound: A Night with the Dirty Three

Sometimes I could just run into a river and drown. That's what I'm thinking about mid-way into the set tonight when some electrical thing passes over me and this other realization comes that sound is the city's river and we're here in it already, in the river of a music coming right out of our landscape, and when I think that I see that I felt this from the start, in the anticipatory pulse of the crowd as a prerecording of Television's Marquee Moon rained heavy guitar 'hesitating' right over us and how all of a sudden the Dirty Three were on stage together as one unit, no stars, no order to their procession, Warren Ellis taking too long to untangle the lead to his electric violin as if he could be patient and a bit of a kook because of what he knew would come, oh the confidence to be stupid!, while Jim White smiled and waited behind the low drums and guitarist Mick Turner stood moochily in his jeans and black t-shirt which I think are his only clothes and probably his pyjamas as well, does Mick Turner have other clothes? I wonder, then 1000 Fucking Miles bursts and Ellis thrashes his coat off and stretches out his arms, flamenco Jesus style, lots of happy hecklers requesting all these songs, so many demands, a shouting rabble, who knows what they're fucking saying, so Ellis says "yeah they're all good ones" and everybody laughs, then he gets into a rave about playing "a country alternative rock number NOT" and it starts and the amplifiers and floodlight-stands cast singular shadows backward like lonely buildings which makes me think of New York and September 11 and the way the band are in this dream city on stage, beautiful planes of colour (blue, red, manganese) burning behind them, sometimes heating up, intensifying and cooling down with their music, till Jim White's drums sound like feedback and Mick Turner's guitar is a violin riff and Warren Ellis' violin is being played like a guitar and you're not sure what's coming from who anymore as they melt together till there's another Ellis joke-story about some girl ringing him up to let him know the Dirty Three are part of a movement called post-rock to which he says "What?" so she tells him about "all these bands named after animals and cars" he shrugs, ah its time to get down to earth and play This Some Summer They're Dropping Like Flies when I get a sad flicker on me and think about a guy I spoke to on a phone once who got killed a few hours later that same day, hit by a bus while he was riding home on his pushbike, and the stuff he said to me about his wife and kid, mild, sweet, ordinary stuff, wiped out forever, he was no one to me, a phone voice, so the memory goes and the music gets center of my head again, really pulsing now, which makes me think about the differences between the words 'danger' and 'thrill' and all these river thoughts that started this 'review' are coming now but the band stops and the song is over and Jim White looks like he's lost a drumstick or himself and even as they begin again he's still looking for something under his kit and it's the song Hope and the colour of their city on stage is jacaranda now and I'm off thinking of tree blossoms and a girl's name that I can't put a face too and this whole thing of time that's going on here tonight, time, the Dirty Three really have time in their hands, Jim White's drums sounding like he's hitting the bottom of a bucket then shimmering and then like thunder and then like horse's feet and all of a sudden Warren Ellis is there with him and his violin is a fat blood stream and the two of them are watching Mick Turner's fingers, watching and waiting for his signal to change, thoughts of Ivan Southall's novels about lonely boys and country hills in summer and old drawings by Lloyd Rees popping into my mind till Warren Ellis rants about how "they said we'd never make it" and says Blow It Out Your Arse and then and then and then I can smell pot being smoked and a couple are pashing off just to my right like they've finally confessed it's real and they want it badly and the crowd is moving in this hypnotized way, like we're spaghetti in a boiling pot, a monumental version of Suze's Last Ride "for anyone grieving here tonight" is announced, Jim White's hands faster than light, the fastest hands I have ever seen, then Deeper Water and an encore of Everything's Fucked and Indian Love Song, all in this orange blaze of colour, Warren Ellis spitting at the sky, and then and then and then it's over, but the river is still in our heads and mostly I don't know the names of the songs or the names of anything, certainly not these feelings and words that break and flow and run through me but I know this band can take you into a very big river and that everyone here tonight has found a lot going on beneath the surface.

- Mark Mordue

* Performance at Metro Theatre, Sydney, 05.11.2001. Review published in Drum Media, Sydney on 23.04.2002. Above photo of Dirty Three taken by Pete Ottery (

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