Dirty Three @ The Glee Club, Birmingham – Tuesday 20th November 2012

Within seconds of being on stage, you realise how amusing Warren Ellis is with his comments about the lights reminding him of a bad trip that may trigger a recurrence, followed by an advert for a launderette that has made his clothes smell amazing whilst threatening the soundman with the sack if he doesn’t make him sound more like Jim Morrison. All of this before Dirty Three have even played a note. Dirty Three are an Australian trio that have been making music since the early 1990s, however all the musicians are involved with a number of other influential artists ranging from Cat Power, Bonnie Prince Billy and Nick Cave.

Within a couple of minutes into the first track, Rain Song, you can deduce the great musical competency of all them. Warren Ellis loses his jacket to allow his exuberant playing style to be unleashed; I would question how many violinists play their instrument with such fervour and movement, filling the stage with his charisma and demeanour and letting the music determine where his body goes. White and Turner’s steady yet intricate rhythm allows for the Ellis’ ingenuity to shine, developing more complicated layers which mysteriously fit together to create a beautifully moving piece. Dirty Three have the ability to initiate meaning and emotion to their music without the need for lyrics, resulting in sound that is incredibly atmospheric and has the audience engrossed. The trio are not afraid to produce dissonance and discord, which is not always easy to listen to, without reaching the realms of inaudible chaos, then with a twist the striking balance of harmony and melody is restored. As a musical unit, there is a distinct yet undefinable communication between the band that allows them to feel the pace and dynamics without it being prescriptive and fixed.

The track, Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone, sees Ellis take to the piano against back drop of White’s frenetic jazz style drumming that shouldn’t combine effectively but strangely the band make it work. At points during the song, the piano style becomes reminiscent of the composer Rachmaninov, with Ellis’ use of sweeping chords and tremolo on the lower register of the keyboard. The interplay between all the instruments is incredibly complex without losing its organic nature adding to the ambience which explains why the musicians have the talent for producing such phenomenal film soundtracks.

Between each of the tracks, Ellis unbridles the workings of his surreal yet amusing mind ranging from stories about the Valley of the Pauls to ham and cheese in his grandmother’s underpants all of which are explanations to the emotions behind the song that is to follow. There does appear to be a common theme, which is his dislike for Chris Martin, Bono and Paul McCartney which is an instant winner with the audience. The final episode of the set is far more subdued with the likes of Last Horse on the Sand, an epic examination of paradoxical fragile beauty, giving space for the listener to explore their own visuals that are so brilliantly triggered by the collective’s musicality. As the main performance draws to a close, Ellis makes the announcement that “You are never alone with Dirty Three”. Unfortunately, I was unable to stay for the encore. However I have it on good authority that it was more of the same; exquisite and often bewildering explorations into the human condition through unique, powerful, instrumental compositions.

Review by Toni Woodward
Photographs by John Bentley

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