Australia's Dirty Three have been getting reams of great press
both here in New Zealand and in most other parts of the globe thanks to the
reaction to their latest release, Horse Stories.
The three piece
held a two-night stand this weekend at Luna, a small club in downtown Auckland.
The band's unusual configuration featuring violinist Warren Ellis, drummer Jim
White and Mick Turner on guitar took the stage at about midnight on
Saturday(February 15) after a well-received set from local Flying Nun thrashers
Solid Gold Hell.
Ellis ambled up to the microphone, said how glad he was to
be in Auckland and introduced the first tune thusly: "This is about when after
about three days of being with someone, you realize that you should end it, but
you don't, so you stay with them for about three years and you know the story,
you take too many drugs together to try and find love, but you don't. You just
end up getting in a fucking mess. This is a song about wishing that, in fact,
you had walked away after the third day. This is called 'I Knew It Would Come
To This.' "
At this point Ellis turned his back to the audience to begin
the song. First we heard some tapping from the drums, a few stray chords from
the guitar and a scratchy sound coming from the violin. After a couple of
minutes a melody seemed to be trying to rear its head from the seemingly
unrelated noises. The band found its groove and we were off. Ellis and White
locked into each other, playing off of each other's riffs and beats, while
guitarist Turner stood off to the side, strummed his guitar and helped hold
Ellis turned the song inside out, as if he were dead set
on finding out what made it tick. Occasionally either Ellis or White would
burst into a flurry of notes, the intensity of their playing was almost too
much to handle.
When the song was over, the audience was stunned. Most of
the two hundred or so members of the crowd didn't seem to know what to think.
Keep in mind this is instrumental music. As the band dug into the second song,
another selection from Horse Stories called "Hope", I could almost see
the exact moment when the crowd collectively "got it". This is music you have
to listen to, not just have it played to, or at, you. Once this became evident,
the crowd was with them, hanging onto every word of Ellis' descriptions of the
songs. Most of these descriptions dealt with drugs, violence, death, alcohol or
love. Most all at the same time.
Over the course of the 90 minute set, the
band followed roughly the same blueprint. An outrageously entertaining
soliloquy from Ellis to intro the song, followed by a harrowing, exhilarating,
and at the same time, beautiful performance by the three musicians that went on
for an average of ten minutes per song.
As the band played, I tried to
pick out some musical guide-posts. Neil Young and Crazy Horse came to mind
along with Sonic Youth at their most experimental and Leonard Cohen at his most
poetic. Just when I thought that maybe the Cohen connection was a bit of a
reach, Ellis announced the next song, "Suzanne." Written by Leonard Cohen, of
After "Warren's Lament," the band left the stage and the crowd
seemed almost relieved. It was like the feeling you have after you've just
gotten off a killer roller coaster. But then they came to their senses and
brought the Three back for more.
The intro to the last song summed things
up perfectly: "This is a song about having a child with Siouxsie Sioux from the
Banshees. Getting involved in a weird tryst of love with Robert Smith and Meat
Loaf and Siouxsie Sioux and giving birth to Ian Curtis. And you're really proud
of him and there is a twin and it's Robert Smith and you're kind of bummed out
about that 'cause he's ahh, really fucked. And so every time you hear The Cure
on the radio you decide that you're gonna go out and shoot yourself in the head
and you realize that you've shot yourself too many times and your son's a
fucking idiot and so you decide to write a song.
This is called 'Mick's
Love Song,' "Ellis concluded. "Or, 'Robert Smith Ain't My Child.' "