Watching the shaman-like figure of Warren Ellis spouting forth dream fragments in his distinctive Antipodean purr is a rare pleasure: he recollects sneaking into Chris Martin’s hotel room to shave his head and reveal the number of the beast. Later, he rambles about a ‘Land of Pauls’ somewhere in Switzerland where McCartney, Gadd and Weller, among others, have retreated to make cuckoo clocks. Ellis’ ramblings may lack coherence, but when this wild charming Bad Seed pours his errant soul into his violin something crystallises.
Dirty Three do not need words. The band’s symbiotic intuition elevates their instrumental compositions from the technically impressive to the emotionally engaging. Jim White’s drumming provides a sympathetic counterpoint to Ellis’ violin but is also capable of grabbing a song by the scruff of its neck, pulling it to its feet and then pounding it into a heady oblivion. In turn, Mick Turner’s guitar provides complex texture, always intelligent and understatedly powerful. And thus Dirty Three convey a whole gamut of emotions.
The beautiful Hope rides in mid-set: a mournful canter across desolate planes that leaves you heavy-hearted. As way of a contrast, the African-influenced blues of The Zither Player is full of leftfield strut with Ellis strumming and plucking his violin with rock n roll swagger. Much of this year’s superlative Toward The Low Sun also gets an airing, but its textures are less suited to the live environment, Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone being a free-roaming and attention-grabbing exception.
It is the various movements and snowballing emotions of Some Summers They Drop Like Flies that showcases the band at their dynamic peak. Ellis plucks out a sad bolero, then blows across his violin, employs a loop pedal, commands the audience to yelp in time, all the while Turner and White patiently build the track to a tumultuous fury. It is an epiphany, a roar of humanity, and the reason why Dirty Three are impressive, beyond words.
Words: Tom Spooner