November 10th, 2012 | Live reviews

The Passion of the Dirty Three — Bootleg Theater, October 8, 2012

Multi-continental instrumental rock band the Dirty Three enveloped the Bootleg Theater in transcendent sounds last Monday. Composer and chief raconteur Warren Ellis (fiddle/keys), backing guitarist Mick Turner, and octopus-armed drummer Jim White delivered a transcendent performance. Ellis meticulously looped violin riffs with pompous alacrity. Turner fanned and fingered jazz chords to paint the underlying mood, while White flimmed, flamed and slammed his set, sidestepping the traditional 1-2-3-4 rock beat with dysfunctional perfection à la Rashied Ali.

After 10 minutes, Ellis let his wall of loops repeat, conducting a film-worthy score of swelling dissonance, thrusting his chest emphatically and flailing his limbs epileptic-ly. In nihilistic self-love he outstretched his arms, reared his head back and howled like a wild beast accepting grim crucifixion.

This began a remarkable journey.

Words do no justice to the full spectrum of the Dirty Three’s synergy, a synergy tightened by touring and recording for 20 years now. They conducted a séance, passing control of the orchestration from member to member, sometimes Ellis’ melodies driving, other times White’s thundering floor tom hammering the pulse. Though written with improvisation in mind, their fluidity is singular.

Monday’s set started with stuff from 2012’s Toward The Low Sun, which felt on recording like mere expansion from earlier releases. Live, though, the new material surged and rumbled with proggy mind-fuckery approaching King Crimson. The set was rounded out with older tracks like “Rain Song,” “Everything’s Fucked,” “Sea Above, Sky Below” and, no surprise, “Sue’s Last Dance” as the encore.

Summary: No lulls. Continuous meditation. Pure satisfaction.

See the Dirty Three before you die. And fair warning, bring someone you love. You’ll want to hold hands to make sure what you’re seeing is real. As for Warren Ellis, he’s everywhere – playing with the Bad Seeds, Grinderman, and doing film scores for directors like John Hillcoat among others.

Highlights: Warren Ellis’ song introductions snowballing into stream of conscious rants about Justin Bieber, Paul McCartney, hairspray destroying the ozone layer (Ellis orginates from Australia), Fatburger, man caves with 5D sound, Bon Jovi, “Living on a Prayer,” “Living on a Prayer” in 5D sound, death, Aussie mushrooms and amphetamines, India, pajamas, destroying emails with large guns… His impromptu storytelling warrants the cost of admission alone. Ellis can turn phrase with the best around, like a mangier Mark Twain bewitching some shoddy Christmas decorations into a holiday pavilion on the Champs Elysee.

Lowlights: Nick Cave didn’t make a cameo on “Sea Above, Sky Below.”  Maybe next time.

-Daniel Warren