King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Photo: Jason Galea / Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard Destroy the Berkeley Greek

At the end of the show, fans are left in a pleasant daze. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have metaphysically destroyed Berkeley, California’s Greek Theater.

It’s been a long time coming, but King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have finally arrived in the People’s Republic of Berkeley and the Australian rock band’s devoted fans are so ready. Billed as a special three-hour “epic” performance ever since it was originally scheduled for April 2020, the show was postponed three freaking times due to the damnable COVID-19 pandemic. Anticipation is therefore running extra high here at the historic Greek Theater on this early autumn Sunday evening of October 2.

The band relieved some of the tension when they rolled through the Bay Area in April for a three-night run at small venues in Sonoma, Petaluma, and San Francisco. But this “epic” show at the Greek is the one the fans have really been waiting for. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have been on a prolific creative roll highlighted by 2022’s Omnium Gatherum, a monumental double album that hits all the buttons and rings all the bells by mixing up previous thematic and genre forays for a creative grand slam.

The further that one digs into the band’s repertoire, the further fans find themselves falling down a rewarding rabbit hole. In this sense, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have elevated themselves into a higher league than most bands even aspire to. The rabbit hole leads to a cosmic wormhole upon discovery of “the Gizzverse“, a storyline of sorts that weaves through various songs and albums for a larger thematic landscape that adds another level of intrigue to the band’s growing mystique.

One of the most tangible themes is the band’s role as eco-rebels with a handful of songs that take stock of the planet’s descent into the climate change crisis. Songs like “Planet B”, which states the simple truth that there’s no other planet to fall back on, have further endeared King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard to music fans who desire for their favorite bands to have something meaningful to say. 

“At this point, it isn’t just a mythology, but also something akin to anthropology,” notes the Motion in Art narrator in one of the Gizzverse videos on YouTube. It’s an accurate assessment that helps explain the rise of the King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard phenomenon. These rockers are providing a running pop culture commentary on the world around us and they are dialed into the zeitgeist.

Opening tonight’s show at the Greek with “The Dripping Tap” – the huge 18-minute opening track from Omnium Gatherum – feels like a fitting selection to kick things off. The song lights a musical fuse, while also throwing down the gauntlet against the ecocide being waged on our planet by Big Oil and their corporatocracy cronies. The mosh pit starts moshing and it’s clear that tonight’s show is more than just a rock concert; it’s an event. The climate change zeitgeist is deep here with the lyrics about how “The dripping tap won’t be turned off by the Suits in charge of the world and our Future’s hanging on by a thread With our heads in the sand…”

The live debut of “Ice V” from yet another impending new album is a memorable moment as well, with the band spinning a gloriously syncopated dance party into action. “What better place to play white boy funk than at Berkeley University?” guitarist Joey Walker comments half tongue in cheek. There’s a sense that these fellows don’t take themselves too seriously, even though some of their songs can be deadly serious indeed. But it’s readily apparent that they’re also having a great time up there. In this sense, KGLW seems to tap into resonance from the sociocultural musical revolution that put the San Francisco Bay Area on the map in the 1960s. The band speaks truth to power, while also having fun doing it since revolutions without dancing aren’t worth having as legendary activist Emma Goldman once suggested.

“This will be our Berkeley performance examination song, this next one,” Walker says. “We’re about to play something that’s over ten years old; it’s a trip to play to this many people,” counters guitarist/band leader Stu MacKenzie. Another band member describes a young Stu coming into the studio with his wine sack saying he’s got a riff that goes really fast and then it slows down, “And that was the birth of Gizzard!” The song is “Black Tooth”, a groovy psychedelic garage rock deep cut and it feels like a glorious number as it energizes the Greek here.

“Shanghai” from King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s synth-laden 2021 album Butterfly 3000 is another sonic gem and a surprise treat since Mackenzie had commented earlier in the year that the band still hadn’t learned how to play the album’s songs due to the unusual way they were crafted in the studio during the pandemic. It’s a truly dazzling album though, showcasing another side of the band with songs all in major keys demonstrating that this band can do anything they set their minds to. It feels like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard might lead the audience on a magic carpet ride to a higher dimension here.

Then it’s back to getting the mosh pit raging with “Venusian 2” and “The Great Chain”, as it feels like the Greek might explode in metal mayhem. “Doom City” takes the hard rock in a groovier direction, mixing a heavy sound with a funkier vibe as the band displays their sensational talent for rocking tightly while also grooving loosely at the same time. This sonic theme carries into the mesmerizing groove of “Nuclear Fusion”, (both songs coming from 2017’s Flying Microtonal Banana) where Mackenzie seems like a shamanic practitioner while leading the band with some Eastern melodies as the Greek falls into a sublime collective trance dance. 

The energy level never wanes as King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard keep rocking through some more microtonal tunes that display a genuine tone science for blending infectious guitar melodies into heavy grooves. The crowd is pleased further when Walker says, “This song’s about Donald Trump, fuck that cunt!” The sentiment against the neofascist orange swine wins a big cheer, as keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Ambrose Kenny-Smith comes out front to sing “Straws in the Wind” from 2021’s L.W. album. The song that laments shameless black-hearted grifters brings the microtonal segment of the show to a rousing conclusion to end the first set.

It’s been a stunning set as fans revel in what a special night this long-awaited evening has become. The way that drummer Michael Cavanagh and bassist Lucas Harwood can shift from hard rock and metal to funk and psychedelic jam rock makes them a dynamic duo of a rhythm section. Then there’s guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Cook Craig, adding extra layers to the sounds with Mackenzie, Walker, and Kenny-Smith. Most three guitar bands tend to sound like just a wall of hard rock, but King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are crafting sonic landscapes from varying dimensions.

The break is a brief 15 minutes, just enough time to grab another beer before the band returns with a flamethrower to ignite the Greek on the scintillating “Self-Immolate” from 2019’s Infest the Rats Nest. The mosh pit surges with a fury that recalls Master of Puppets era Metallica, a fitting vibe here in the East Bay. The energy carries into the incendiary “Gaia” from Omnium Gatherum, which feels like a sequel to “Planet B” from Rats Nest in warning about the perils of humanity’s crimes against Mother Earth. There’s a headbanging catharsis here in rocking out with these powerful vibes summoning the existential power of the ancestral mother of all life.

“Thanks again for coming. This is really fun for us,” Mackenzie notes before the band shifts gears into a super funky hip-hop party vibe on “The Grim Reaper”. Ambrose Kenny-Smith is out front again as the ringleader, while Mackenzie lays down some mystical jazz flute that sparks the sound higher still. Only KGLW could juxtapose the metal fury of “Gaia” with the funky hip-hop of “The Grim Reaper” without missing a beat and pull it off in dazzling fashion. 

“Sleepwalker” from 2014’s Oddments provides a deep-cut treat with soaring melodic goodness over a mid-tempo groove that sounds great here in the Berkeley night. The set jumps forward to 2022 with the new “Iron Lung”, which gets a groovy workout as the band moves seamlessly from one era to another. It starts sort of ambient but then builds into a jammy groove where it’s clear to see that MacKenzie is having as good a time onstage as everyone in the audience.

“This is a Lord of the Rings special edition baby. We still have five hours,” Walker kids the crowd, winning another big cheer as the band moves into the slinky soul-soothing sound of “Ambergris”. It’s a fitting comment acknowledging the special circumstances, as the band keeps it groovy. The Middle Earth vibe does indeed come into play when Leah Senor is welcomed back to the stage to help the band out. “A very very special friend… The original balrog enters the stage,” says a band member to introduce Ms. Senor, whose own band opened the show with a pleasing set of melodic indie rock. 

Senor was the narrator on Polygondwanaland and  Murder of the Universe, so it’s a special treat for King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard to have her out on tour here. Her mystical narration on “The Reticent Raconteur” indeed sets the stage for a battle with a balrog on “The Lord of Lightning”. It’s a truly electrifying psych-rock moment as the band jams out on a song that feels like it could indeed be the soundtrack for a big battle scene in Lord of the Rings.

Moving into “Crumbling Castle” makes for a strategic segue. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are leading the audience on a mystical rock ‘n’ roll adventure into another realm and the plot just keeps thickening. This opening track from Polygondwanaland has a truly epic vibe, with the song’s placement making for a climactic conclusion as tonight’s three-hour saga nears the final credits. The song segues seamlessly into “The Fourth Color”, the Polygondwanaland closer and apparently a rocking bust out not played since 2019. The band goes back to 2014’s I’m in Your Mind Fuzz to close out the show with “Am I In Heaven”, another slice of classic Gizz psych-rock to provide a triumphant finale as Mackenzie sings about ideas in his brain concerning the end of the world and riding an eternal wave to live on a star. 

At the end, fans are left in a pleasant daze. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have metaphysically destroyed the Greek Theater. If there was such a thing as fourth-dimensional goggles, they would surely show the venue steaming in smoldering ruins as if Gandalf & his mates had indeed fought off a balrog or two to save Middle Earth for another day. Sauron’s dark forces are still working around the clock to keep their “Dripping Tap” flowing though, so it feels fortuitous to have the tone scientist eco-warriors of King Gizzard & the Lizard Lizard here shedding light in our realm to help humanity see a better way.