Dirty Three

May 11-17, 2003, UK
So you pack your little sandwiches and climb into your little car and put your little foot down hard on the pedal with Houses of the Holy blasting really fuckin' loud. You can't go south from Brighton on that beach with all the little pebbles because you'd drive into the sea so you head north and soon your little heart is pounding and your little sandwiches are all eaten up but at last you've driven "1000 Miles" and the last sound you hear is your little heart exploding with joy because you know at last you are exactly where you need to be. And where I needed to be was on the Dirty Three UK tour because a band that can alternate tears of sorrow and joy and exhilaration so rapidly is a rare thing indeed. Rumours that violinist Warren Ellis was a little fed up of touring meant that I wanted to make the most of this as they might not be back for a long time. In the end I made it to four shows in Brighton, Leicester, Leeds and the second smaller London gig, skipping the big London gig in favour of Calla who I'd never seen before and who were unfussily majestic and almost as intense. I also missed the Glasgow date as I headed into London that day to see the last gig on the Noxagt tour, another idiosyncratic trio who are rather more brutal.
Warren Ellis is a seasoned raconteur with hilarious tales to introduce each intense instrumental beauty. These are loose and shift shape every night around a similar theme. In Leicester heckles diverted some of them off track into even more oddly comedic angles. So Warren might tell a silly story of how their Ocean Songs album was inspired by the smell of urine in a landlocked Chicago heavy metal studio. Then the four of them kick into some deleriously gorgeous yet robust and hard edged rock, shaped in chemical moulds that only years of playing together can bring. Four? Does that make them the Dirty Three Plus One now? Relative newcomer Martin Casey who plays alongside Warren in the Bad Seeds seemed unsurprisingly a little more tentative in Brighton but fit right in with the others, and Warren and the utterly individual and ever more awe inspiring loose limbed drummer Jim White seem to have a particularly telepathic understanding of those ecstatic places they can open up and bleed. Some tunes got pushed into extended foraging forays that upped the intensity ante some, and in Brighton and London when they ran down "Sue's Last Ride" the levels and layers they built and built just seemed like they couldn't get any higher and just kept on reaching for the sun. Warren reckons guitarist Mick Turner regularly walks on water in hotel baths, but he certainly has developed a highly original and utterly distinctive style of playing that seems to reflect the wide open desert shores and burning sun of his former homeland Australia. If Warren's violin is a skyburst of emotive colour and Jim's drumming skitters like pebbles pulled by roaring waves on the beach, then Mick is probably painting in the desert lands and mountain ranges in the heady elemental dirty brew. What was really nice about seeing the band a few times was the way they just seemed to get better every night, although the Leeds show at Brudenell Social Club won out over the last sold out London show at the dark and dingy Barfly due to better atmosphere and sound in a nicer venue. The Brighton and Leeds shows were a contrast being all seated theatres, making Warren's habit of spitting high into the air as he bows his little violin and kicks his leg backwards seem slightly incongruous and transgressive. In Brighton Clogs played a pleasantly engaging set of what you might call chamber rock if you were feeling lazy after an alcohol fueled road trip holiday. But at least I didn't compare them to Rachel's like I did at the gig. In Leicester and Leeds Mr Cardboard Boxman were as much a revelation as two scruffy Australian guitar twangers with an array of looping gadgets and weird junk shop instruments could be, playing part improvised cutout sundown reflections. But it was Dirty Three who had the songs for the ladies with the darkness in their hearts.