King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard Transform the Fillmore to Defy the Apocalypse

There’s a tight prog-metal vibe here that recalls Iron Maiden in their heyday, but King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard soon show they’re more than just a metal band.

Tropical Fuck Storm
City: San Francisco, CA
Venue: The Fillmore
Date: 2017-10-12

Australian rockers blitz San Francisco with high-concept prog rock and psychedelia

It’s got to be the most enigmatic bill of the year at the fabled Fillmore Auditorium with Australian psyche-rockers King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard rolling in on this autumn Thursday, supported by no less than alleged Australian supergroup Tropical Fuck Storm. The headliners have been building some serious buzz over the past few years, releasing proggy concept albums at a rate that could make Ryan Adams feel like a slacker. Hence this evening’s show is completely sold out. Far less is known about the openers, but just their name alone generates a curiosity factor that practically demands viewing.

The opening act is billed as a “supergroup” consisting of members of the Drones, High Tension, and Harmony, although these groups remain mostly unknown to most American listeners. But then there’s that name. At a time when the shit seems to be hitting the fan on multiple levels across America -- with three hurricanes, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and the apocalyptic fires right here in the Bay Area in nearby Sonoma County -- a band like Tropical Fuck Storm seems like it could be just what the doctor ordered. But this is sadly not the case. The band makes a loud cacophonous racket, but there’s little in the way of tangible melody or harmonic content to keep listeners interested, and the group sadly turns out to be little more than a curiosity.

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard will surely be another story. Their new album Murder of the Universe seems like it was destined to provide a soundtrack to Donald the Trump’s assault on the Republic. The group has released three albums here in 2017 and allegedly have two more in the works! How do they do it? The seven-piece outfit features three guitarists, two drummers, bass, harmonica and some kind of magic that enables them to crank out all this material in a mind-boggling display of prolific virtuosity. 2017 has also featured Flying Microtonal Banana and Sketches of Brunswick East. The latter is “a jazz and Tropicalia infused collaboration” with another band called the Mild High Club and provides a real change of pace from Gizzard’s more typically hard rocking sound. It might just make the perfect soundtrack to come down with after a King Gizzard show because it doesn’t take long after the band hits the stage to realize that heavy metal is their forte.

There’s a tight prog-metal vibe here that recalls Iron Maiden in their heyday, but King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard soon show they’re more than just a metal band. Much of the show does rock with a headbanging fury, but they mix it up with some bluesy grooves and mind-expanding psychedelia that recalls acts like the Black Angels and 13th Floor Elevators. The band also scores major points with veteran concertgoers by having their sound dialed in so well that earplugs are not necessarily required, as opposed to the Black Angels who played their entire 2013 Fillmore show at a blistering volume that may have caused permanent ear damage for some listeners.

The show is primarily dominated by the year’s first two albums, with Murder of the Universe providing an all too timely soundtrack for the chaos of this foul year where the entire world seems to be going mad. “We’re living in dystopian times that are pretty scary, and it’s hard not to reflect that in our music,” frontman Stu Mackenzie said in a press release for the album. “It’s almost unavoidable. Some scientists predict that the downfall of humanity is just as likely to come at the hands of Artificial Intelligence, as it is war or viruses or climate change. But these are fascinating times too… While the tone is definitely apocalyptic, it is not necessarily purely a mirror of the current state of humanity. It’s about new non-linear narratives.”

Tapping into non-linear narratives sounds like a great idea at a time when the global narrative seems to be heading in a decidedly bleak direction. Here the band’s cinematic track “Welcome to an Altered Future” gives way to the dark rock of “Digital Black” and the pleading of a lonely android in “Han-Tyumi, the Confused Cyborg” who just wants a genuine existence. Is this meant to tie in thematically with the recent Bladerunner 2049 release? Hard to say, but it sure feels like it. The kinetic rock of “Lord of Lightning” keeps the energy pumping along with the band’s dramatic light show, featuring a screen behind the stage that spins into a variety of psychedelic vortex visuals to make attendees feel like they are truly being pulled into a genuine alternate reality.

The band flips back into Microtonal Banana for “Rattlesnake” to keep things rocking with an infectious vibe that has some fans looking for mosh pit and crowd surf action. “Nuclear Fusion” finds the group shifting gears into a retro-rock number with an Eastern type melody, some psychedelic organ and a groovy beat that’s danceable. “Doom City” has some of this more groovy vibe as well, as the band’s sound seems to dip back into a melange of ‘70s rock instead of the ‘80s metal fury that dominated the opening of the show. The set then moves into a furious sequence from Murder of the Universe featuring the “Altered Beast” and “Altered Me” tracks that conjure visions of David Naughton wreaking havoc in American Werewolf in London.

As the show steams toward a finish, the deep cut “Hot Water” provides a funkier groove that Austin Powers might dig. One groovy number finds the band making strategic use of the Fillmore’s disco ball to make a double vortex along with the action that’s happening on screen for a moment that truly dazzles the senses. “Lonely Steel Sheet Flyer” provides a similarly groovy psychedelic catharsis, mixing some ambient vibes and a flute solo into the sonic stew as the band stretches out beyond expectation for a big conclusion that defies expectation.

The show has centered mainly around metal and hard rock, yet King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have many sonic tricks up their sleeve and are a band that aspires to more than being pigeonholed into the metal genre. They certainly have the ambition, as their recorded catalog attests. One can’t help but feel that their breakthrough masterpiece is still to come however and when it does, the rock world may never be the same…

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