It’s an extra special Wednesday night in the City of Angels here on the summer solstice with King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard in town to conclude their American summer tour at the fabulous Hollywood Bowl. The Australian rockers have been on quite a creative roll in recent years, dropping five new albums in 2022 alone and now having just released their first new record of 2023 with the heavy metal fury of PetroDragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation.
The lengthy title may sound grandiose to some, but it alludes to what deep songwriters these ambitious musical eco-rebels are. There’s been a common theme running through King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s albums for several years now, with a socially conscious vibe that exposes the planet’s shortsighted power brokers for the shallow greedheads that they are. These savvy tone scientists are thus tapping into a rock ‘n’ roll tradition dating back to Bob Dylan’s trailblazing songcraft of the early 1960s, using the music to tell deeper truths that the powers that be wish to obscure for their elitist benefit.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are most definitely a band of the people, and this is becoming ever clearer with each passing year. Considered a rising buzz band in the previous decade, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have taken the next step in the 2020s and are becoming a genuine phenomenon. Thus tonight’s show is the band’s largest ever on American soil, and fans are coming in from all over.
This shorter tour has seen the band playing three-night residencies in a handful of cities, mixing up the setlists each night. Californians get another “epic” show with a three-hour format like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard played last year at Red Rocks and the Berkeley Greek Theater. The merch line before the show seems to be a mile long, with fans eager to score the limited edition posters for tonight’s show. The print depicts an intoxicated dragon sucking on a can of oil like it’s a cocktail, a clear metaphor for the band’s incendiary 2022 anthem against Big Oil, “The Dripping Tap”.
The show opens with an intriguing curveball as King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard play four songs from their 2013 spaghetti western album Eyes Like the Sky in tribute to keyboardist Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s father, Broderick Smith, who passed on in untimely fashion this past spring. Broderick Smith delivered the narration on the record and planned to make a guest appearance here at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s a touching tribute depicting him in videos complimenting the songs, with the old west vibe matching the landscape with the Hollywood hills. Several band members hug it out with Amby at the end of the sequence for a poignant moment in King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard history.
Then the rock show ignites with “Rattlesnake”, another fitting selection thanks to the desert scenery in the visuals. The heavy metal power of “Gaia” from 2022’s instant classic double album Omnium Gatherum cranks the energy way up as a rare Hollywood Bowl mosh pit gets going. It’s a powerful song not just because of the ultra-heavy riffage but also due to the zeitgeisty theme on the all-encompassing might of Mother Earth as she rebels with heavy weather against the climate crisis brought on by “the men in suits” (who are addicted to oil profiteering as the band references on “The Dripping Tap” from the same album.)
“Gaia” makes a surprise segue into “Gila Monster” – the lead single from the new album – for another rager that pairs perfectly to double down on the metal fury. “Gila Monster” features one of the coolest videos of recent years, directed by an artist known as SPOD, who “wanted to shoot Lord of the Rings 4 but also make a video game” and mixed both themes for “this majestic journey for truth and power in a cursed world.” There’s a heavy vibe in play here, as it already feels like the band is destroying Hollywood before the segue back into “Gaia” for a fantastic finish. “Gaia” also has a stellar new video in 2023, with the band performing a scintillating ten-minute studio version of the song that was only five minutes on the album.
“Supercell” and “Witchcraft” from the new album follow, and those seeing King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard for the first time may be starting to wonder if this will be a heavy metal show. These intrepid sonic adventurers are an incredible heavy metal band when they choose to be. Did they decide to release a new metal record to scare off potential mainstream fans since they don’t want to get too big, too fast? Quite possibly. Or maybe they love playing metal since it’s just plain fun, as guitarist Stu Mackenzie has suggested.
The show spins into a delightfully psychedelic direction with the fan-fave “Crumbling Castle” from 2017’s brilliant Polygondwanaland. It’s still a heavy tune but features some microtonal eastern riffage and psychedelic layers that make for a unique sonic journey (it’s also a song and album that makes a great soundtrack for the Shin Godzilla movie from 2016, as this reporter’s show buddy from west Los Angeles demonstrated one late night a few years ago.) It’s starting to get dark now, too, about an hour into the show, here on the longest day of the year, giving the band’s stellar light show a much stronger effect on the music. The jam gets the mosh pit going again as the full psychedelic rock power of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard now takes effect.
“Yeah, this is fun”, MacKenzie acknowledges at the end of the sensational jams on “Crumbling Castle” and “The Fourth Color” as he breaks out his flute, while Amby takes the mic and walks out into the crowd to lead the band through the funky hip-hop fiesta of “Grim Reaper”. Mackenzie adds his sublime psychedelic jazz flute between verses, and the Hollywood Bowl is really getting lit now as a festive dance party ensues.
A friend from the Phish scene wanders by this reporter’s box and hangs out for a bit to share a groove, then notes how “Grim Reaper” has a cool Beastie Boys vibe, which indeed it does. Serious synchronicity is in effect when Amby then teases the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” at the end of the extended jam, much to the delight of all. It’s easy to see how much fun the group are having, and it’s downright contagious. It’s also interesting for this reporter to randomly run into four different Phish friends at this show, as the surge of Phish fans gravitating to King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard has been a hot topic in 2023. This includes Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, who has openly professed his affinity for King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard in recent years and was sighted at their Red Rocks shows two weeks earlier.
“They’re weird, and they absolutely kill live,” Anastasio told Relix Magazine this spring. “They ride the psychedelic wave in an organic, loose way, but it’s from a different angle and a new one. The language is definitely not ‘jam’, but the intent is so much about the flow. It feels new and old all at once. They have that glorious three-guitar sound, but the parts are intricate, and they don’t step on each other. The bass and drums and keys are incredible, and they keep cranking out great records that have unique personalities.”
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard follow “Grim Reaper” by extending the sonic landscape further with the majestic melodic psychedelia of “Magenta Mountain”, another winner from Omnium Gatherum, with Mackenzie and guitarist Eric Walker both playing synths at the start. There’s a great vibe here, with the music creating a feeling of transporting the audience to a psychedelic wonderland. Bassist Lucas Harwood and drummer Michael Cavanagh lay down a nimble groove here, creating a firm foundation for the swirling synths to act as vehicles to a higher dimension. Then there’s third guitarist and secret weapon/multi-instrumentalist Cook Craig adding extra sonic layers too. Mackenzie eventually switches to guitar for some sharp leads as the song shifts into a bluesier direction for another great outro jam.
“Astroturf” from 2022’s Changes is introduced as another funky number, and it has a funky beat as the show moves past the halfway mark some 90 minutes in. Mackenzie lays down some more great jazz flute here, always a treat in the psychedelic context. A drum solo with a global vibe, almost like a Grateful Dead drums segment, follows, with most of the band exiting the stage for a quick breather. There is to be no 15-minute break as at the previous epic shows, so it’s a clear sign for fans to do whatever they might need to. Most fans won’t need to grab another beer at this time, though, since tonight is one of the rare rock shows at the Bowl where fans are allowed to bring in their own beer, adding to the festive solstice vibe.
The band soon returns to pop open a cosmic wormhole with the transcendent synth majesty of “Shanghai”. It’s still the only song they’ve learned to play from 2021’s magically futuristic Butterfly 3000 album, and it’s a great live one as MacKenzie and Walker double up on the synths again to transport the Hollywood Bowl to an alternate reality utopia. It feels like a perfect moment for a puff, and indeed the band soon moves into a “Let’s get real high” jam as the uplifting music seems to generate a vortex that makes it feel like the Bowl is about to lift off into space.
“Ambergris” is another great moment with a low-key, soul-soothing ambiance generating a state of sonic bliss. “Iron Lung” from 2022’s Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms, and Lava (perhaps King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s jammiest album) is yet another highlight, starting at a simmer before quickly evolving to a boiling point as the band rocks out on the tight yet groovy minor key jam. There’s some great guitar interplay here, with Mackenzie wailing some of his best licks of the night over a dynamic groove from the rhythm section.
The “Iron Lung” jam segues into “Hypertension” from 2022’s Laminated Denim, where it feels like another section of “Iron Lung”. This makes for a great pairing as the band soon moves into another melty-hot psych-rock jam, with Mackenzie and Walker tearing it up as the dynamic duo they’ve been all night. “Magma” from Ice Death follows with still more liquid hot jamming as the show steams toward the finish line with an impressively sustained energy level.
“This is insanely crazy”, Mackenzie remarks matter-of-factly before the band introduces the last song of the night, alluding to the big audience at this legendary venue. “This song goes out to my music teacher who said my voice sounds weird, haha; look at me now fucker, it still sounds weird, but alright,” Amby says in defiance as he moves out front again. “Let’s all sing this together if we can,” he asks as the band drops into the intro of “The Dripping Tap”: “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, ooh / The dripping tap won’t be turned off by the / Gods up above us, big sky country / That we never hear from in these / Time of our dying needs.”
The 18-minute opening track from Omnium Gatherum then ignites with the mosh pit exploding once more as King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard take the Hollywood Bowl on a sensational sonic journey to close out the show in truly climactic fashion. Mackenzie and Walker tear it up over the sizzling groove, with the whole Bowl rocking out and dancing along to the infectious riffs, with many fans singing along on the “Drip, drip from the tap don’t slip, Drip, drip from the tap don’t slip on the drip” jam sequence. There’s a powerful zeitgeist here, with the song’s lament against the powers that be who refuse to slow the flow of their oil profiteering as the planet descends into climate change dystopia with humanity’s collective future indeed hanging by a thread.
“We win, we all win together”, Amby proclaims at the end of the triumphant jam, alluding to both the uplifting power of community in the rock ‘n’ roll world as well as the necessity for the good people of humanity to come together in climate activism to save the world from “the suits in charge” who won’t turn off that oil tap. The world needs more bands who will tell their fans the truth and speak truth to power, like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard.