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Review Fri Sep 28 2012

Review: Dirty Three @ Lincoln Hall

It's a sharp, uncharacterisitc night in Lincoln Park. Chillingly cold, and emptier than normal, as if it was three in the morning and not 8:30 at night. The sounds of people I can't see give the streets an eerie feeling. I'm on my way to see the Dirty Three, a band that originated in Australia in the '90s but now forms only when its three members travel from their respective continents to play a show like this one at Lincoln Hall. The music they play is hard to classify. The sound is rock-and-roll, but the structure is jazz, by which I mean loose. A violin, guitar, and drums could be the lineup for a celtic trio or a bashful folk artist, but there's absolutely nothing sparse or demure about the Dirty Three.

By the time Warren Ellis, Jim White, and Mick Turner take the stage, I've posted up at the top of the stairs on the main floor, by the sound board and above the bar. The barrage that barrels toward me in that first second seems to take forever. It's as if I can see the sound ignite in the plucked string of Ellis's violin and then reverberate in the hollow body of the instrument, filling it up and eventually overflowing, sucked as if through a siphon into the audio cable, which delivers it to the amp behind him.

I still don't hear it. Like watching an explosion from far away, what bursts from the amp is a silent roar, a percentage of which enters the microphone in front of it, snaking into the holes of the wire mesh, breaking apart and reforming as it re-enters the long, twisting tunnel of another cable. Like a spark traveling a fuse, I watch process mesmerized, unable to look away from what I know will be a deafening cataclysm. And when Ellis's first note finally erupts from the speakers, it does so with the force of a blast wave. Joined by White's and Turner's own noise, the sound is thick and highly charged and not remotely ambient, though it becomes so as I lose myself in the wash of it. I see a waitress with her drink tray by her side, swaying slightly as if in a trance, and I think about how overt complexity sometimes dissolves into something simpler in our perception of it, as if we are able to transcend our own mind's sense-making and just listen, without rationality or logic. Either that, or our brains get overwhelmed and we mash things together into a comprehensible mush.

I look around and wonder why anyone is here. It's an arrogant question. After all, I'm here. I'm hardly alone in Chicago as a lover of fringe music. Yet the question occurs to me again and again. I can answer for myself. As a drummer, I'm fascinated by the way White plays. Incredibly fast, but also fluid; there's a grace to the way he masters his kit. It's deceiving to watch him, because he doesn't punish his drums the way some do, yet the sound is total, raucous and unforgivingly brash.

But what are others here to see? Or who? Warren Ellis seems to have fans in the crowd. One woman, as tall as me with scarred cheeks, leans over at one point and says, "Warren put me on the list." I don't tell her I was on the list too but didn't have to sleep with anyone in order to make it so. That's presumptuous on my part but not unfounded. Ellis is a seasoned veteran of rock-and-roll, a key collaborator of Nick Cave's, and he makes no effort to disguise the sexuality he clearly connects to being on stage. He kicks at the air like a grizzled chorus girl, grinds his hips, howls at the absent moon. At one point he lies on his back on the stage, seemingly overtaken by post-coital rapture, his gray hair fanned out around his head like a halo, mirroring his long, gypsy beard.

At least one guy near me seems to have come for the clever, pithy yarns Ellis spins before each song, cautionary tales about modern culture that always seem to star Mark Zuckerberg and Bono. The allegories are predictable, but people laugh anyway, especially this guy near me. He's dying.

I don't ever stop wrestling with the question of why so many people, including me, have come here. It feels as if the show — and it is a show; it's obvious that everything is staged, though there's no choreography or particular coordination — is suspended inside a balloon. All it would take is the prick of a needle, and the illusion would pop, flap limply to the ground. But we're all inside and unarmed. Like a good bloody mary, this noisy blend of folk riffs and distorted guitar is of a taste we all acquired at some point in our lives. Now, it's as enjoyable as anything else. Still, after the show, as I ride home, past A. Finkl & Sons where the workers are still working and Township, or the Club Formerly Known As Pancho's, the question begs a complete answer: What exactly makes the Dirty Three so good?

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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