Last night, I opened my live music account for 2010 at The Tivoli, with Laughing Clowns and Dirty Three joining forces as part of the Don’t Look Back concert series. The Don’t Look Back concerts emerged out of the legendary All Tomorrows Parties Festival and since 2005 have showcased bands in the USA, UK, Europe, Australia & NZ, playing one of their classic albums from start to finish… just some of the artists and albums to have been given the Don’t Look back treatement include Iggy & The Stooges (Fun House), Slint (Spiderland), Sonic Youth (Daydream Nation), The Saints (I’m Stranded) and Died Pretty (Doughboy Hollow).
Last night’s show opened with Laughing Clowns playing one of their retrospective albums, History of Rock ‘n’ Roll Volume One. I know it may be seen as sacrililege in these parts, but the band just didn’t work for me on stage last night. At times the band locked into some mean, bass-heavy grooves, but the members seemed disparate, never quite coming together to forge new ground. Wegner’s drumming, lost somewhere between jazz flourishes and straight ahead rock beats, seemed overstated and instead of uniting the elements, left them stranded, looking for structure. It wasn’t until album closer, Collapse Board, where saxophonist Louise Elliot unleashed, playing like a wounded animal calling for its mate to couple in unrelenting bliss until the light goes out in their eyes, that the band seemed to surprise themselves and (rather than recreate) create a sound that pricked the ears and skin.
And then after a short break, the good ship Dirty Three hit the stage, with captain Warren Ellis, luminous in spirit greeting the crowd, while the crew of Jim White and Mick Turner, readied the vessel for the journey ahead. Ellis tells us they will be playing Leo Sayer’s Just A Boy, which would be fascinating to hear, but as the anchor is pulled, Ellis reveals that tonight, it is Ocean Songs, an album recorded in the late 90’s over five days in Chicago with Steve Albini, with the idea of being quiet.
Ocean Songs for me, has always been much more than an album… it is a year at sea. And as the band launch into the opening notes of Sirena, each of the members is transformed, taking on the vast power of the elements… White, the ocean, at times still and shimmering, at times rising thunderously, whitecapped and dangerous, but always present, always; Ellis the wind and sky, unpredicatbly moving from a gentle caress to a blinding squall, a high-kicking dervish, whose sound is so vast you never reach the edge; and Turner, the tide, knitting it all together, his constant pull, while not always at the fore, always felt deep.
Warren’s got a story for each of the songs; the epic Authentic Celestial Music is about love and it’s fucked up nature, how it’s like realising that 98% of it is like being in a bowl of soup, wondering how you will get out; Last Horse On The Sand is about vastness, realising you are so small that it doesn’t really matter (as Warren says, baby I may not be much, but I’m the last horse on this sand); Black Tide is dedicated to the late Roland S. Howard; Backwards Voyager is a middle finger salute to flying economy and getting probed (literally) by the Chicago police; and Sea Above, Sky Below is about realising even the birds in the trees and the nice old lady down at the shop are telling you to get fucked, so you go home and take pyschadelic drugs and get to know yourself better than even the good lord intended and how you come out of that haze 5 years later and realise they have been the best five years of your life, so you go down to the shop and bend that nice old lady over the counter and say thank you.
It’s a show that surpasses the epic beauty of the original… Dirty Three are a band playing for their lives, all of our lives and tonight, all who (truly) climbed aboard, have returned transformed by these elemental forces, salt-licked and staggering, having been taken to the edge of wonder and allowed to drink.
* if you couldn’t be there, this doesn’t capture the magic, but it is incredible in it’s own right… this is a link to Dirty Three playing many of the songs from Ocean Songs as part of ABC TV’s Studio 22 series.