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The Dirty Three

(16 Mar 2012: Palace Theatre — Melbourne, Australia)

It’s 2012 and there’s nowhere to turn. Everything’s been said, and anyone with a pair of ears is constantly bombarded by recycled ideas and messages.


Enter Kony 2012, a truly inspiring idea that showed flashes of turning into a wholly benign movement. But not long after the movement gained momentum, its leader was arrested for masturbating in public like a goddamned lunatic. Sane people of the world said to themselves, perhaps once and for all, “Is there anything we can actually listen to anymore?”


Enter The Dirty Three, the Melbourne trio who’ve returned with their first studio album in close to seven years. And at their first hometown show in over two years, the instrumental rock trio proved that these days, the message isn’t the problem: it’s the language with which it’s transmitted in that’s become stale.


With Toward the Low Sun, the band, entering the nineteenth year of existence, has proven once and for all that words don’t always form the basis for communication. Their instrumental approach, held afloat by the energetic and captivating stage presence of the manic violinist/keyboardist, Warren Ellis was to be given a platform on a Friday night in their hometown. With the crowd rolling in feverish anticipation before their set, one couldn’t help but wonder, would the evocative beauty of Toward the Low Sun be able to speak volumes in a live setting?


Just minutes after the band took the stage, Ellis, together with the reliable duo of guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White, there couldn’t be any doubt left in the minds of the Melbourne faithful: like all musicians that transcend the limitations of genre, the Dirty Three do not simply write music: they create a language.


Theirs is a language which manifests itself through dense sonic landscapes, or, nearly twenty minutes of constant music without a pause from the time the band took the stage. Relying heavily on cuts from Sun, songs grew from fragile pieces of plucking on a violin to something much more massive in scope that swallowed the crowd whole. Treating his violin with the same limitless love as Jimi treated his guitar, Ellis took the crowd on a journey through “Rain Song”, “The Pier” and “Some Summers They Drop like Flies”. He provided intense punctuation on the band’s language, moving the audacity of a sorcerer, kicking the air around him, hooting and hollering amidst furious solos.


Sure, when Ellis did speak, it was in English. Yet as he preceded songs with tales of elderly Australians moving to the country, opening a pie shop only to see pieces of those pies rise to the surface of humanity as the world comes crashing down all around them, it was hard to keep up. But you couldn’t look away. In a live setting, one is surrounded by the language this band speaks.


For two hours, The Dirty Three were as entertaining as they’ve ever been, yet even more relevant. They proved that in this day in age, when one is frustrated that the world lacks any logic, there’s only one thing to do: listen harder.

Joshua Kloke is a music writer and hopeless Toronto Maple Leafs fan who splits his time between Melbourne, Australia and Canada. He's contributed to The Vancouver Sun, Exclaim!, Beatroute, Beat Magazine, Time Out and veri.live.


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9 Feb 2010
The Dirty Three manage to create a distinctly Australian musical narrative, all without so much as a word being sung.
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22 Apr 2003
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