And, in time, something did descend upon me. But was it sleep? A hex cast, perhaps? A spell? A petit mal? A waking dream? A sinister pall? An hallucination? A visitation? A fragrant passing of an angel’s wing? A nothing?
With news of a forthcoming release from a reconvened Bad Seeds sprouting just the previous morn, there’s a bracing air of transience to tonight. Mercifully for all within the palatial environs of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, it proved to be a quite transcendent one too.
Silhouetted against pillars of the variegated spotlights Zun Zun Egui’s kinetic equatorial psych was surely intended to be propped up on, the indefatigable, and with that indescribably vibrant four-piece truly shine. When compared with all they must by now be used to, this significantly more sizeable arena really, and really quite perplexingly befits their scatty amalgam of “free-range rock” and hairbrained Hindi-pop: the skittish, momentarily raga wriggle of Fandango Fresh; the unintelligible phoenetic-along yodel that is Katang; the barnstorming, off-kilter Cowboy – the track to have blown up in ‘Nam earlier on in the year. These be bold, garish tropical jams tight as Kushal Gaya’s curls; breakneck jolts plugged into grass skirt-swaying grooves. They’re yet to garner the acclaim of which they are so unendingly, and tonight evidently worthy, and in Gaya they’ve the West Country recalcitrant response to Frank Black as the front few rows are rewarded with a non-optional face full, before they bow out on a wig out thrashier and as unruly as a barnet soused in hairspray and subsequently tousled over four days of Sonisphere. Bowing is precisely what they ought to be doing prior to an all too premature departure, for they prove sweat-handedly gripping over forty-five. The sexy, early worm really does catch the chirpy goodness, or something along those lines. By this point my brain’s been splattered in too many shades of polychromy to get the aphorism bang on, but you’ll surely grasp the gist of what Zun Zun Egui are onto. And it’s every shot a bloomin’ coconut kinda stuff.
Warren Ellis’ extempore, and often unplanned shows with the Dirty Three have been equally socko over the years, though the contrast between lively sideshow and this dirgeful main attraction couldn’t be more stark. It’s akin to the disparity between being swathed in wads of winter warmer – as most are tonight – and finding oneself starkers beneath an impenetrable fog of sultry heat on some far-flung rock protruding from the abyssal Indian Ocean. They’re incomparable, though in unerring quality can be found parallel.
Ellis, à la Cave, is one of the great raconteurs of this cultural epoch. And he doesn’t so much feed off of, as barbarously feast upon our undivided attentions: he emerges to tell a fabricated tale of personal discovery, or rather of a most unorthodox transformation into Chris bastarding Martin – a devolutionary metamorphosis that sounds as prolix as the spurious anecdote itself. He proceeds to hurl himself about the place throughout a compellingly rambunctious take on Rain Song, that soon bleeds into the igneous smoulder of Furnace Skies as though exorcising that offensively inoffensive spirit aforesaid. Appositely cantankerous to the last, Ellis kicks like a mule whilst spitting like a fountain, effervescing ire at how it all sounds all the while.
He is the dishevelled, and ever inebriated bartender of some abandoned outback watering hole crapulous on recycled drinks once drunk and subsequently pissed; ethanol contaminated by having slithered through the system more times than our bedraggled chief has howled at moon-like spotlights. Tonight alone these primitive yelps number the innumerable, every one as unintelligible as the last.
Though to refocus and reconnect with thoughts first thunk, the man thrives on incoherency. He could fish for a red herring with only a dirtied fingernail and dine for all eternity – a length of time he seemingly believes to be anywhere in the region of “fifteen years” if one of his recounts is to be taken at face value. They oughtn’t. Ever. And that’s an element of their charm: he’s tonight preoccupied with the infernal tedium of Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora’s consistently superfluous guitar soloing; of not sounding like goddamn Billy Joel down in the monitors (“Ah’ll crowd surf for the first time in me life ‘n rip yer fuckin’ throat out”, he genially assures a surely petrified sound desk). Of Victoria spongecake, social media, and Starbucks. An insinuation of a Shepherd’s Bush afternoon – aptly, the London hub of all things Antipodean – he witters of KFC and other hellacious detritus outlets, as well as of Coldplay. Whether these be fabricated in the here and now, or the there and then remains impossible to tell. Are these premeditated fables to have rolled off the tongue previously? Thereby only semi-improvisational, and sometimes outstanding imitations of a never fully realised career in standup? There are certainly signs of the remaining two to the ‘Three having grown tired of Ellis’ convoluted interludes, as the tentacular Jim “Kid Callahan” White wipes his much perspired upon cymbals clean, and Mick “Cyclone” Turner figures fingered whispers of as yet unformed melodies stage-left. Patience is a virtue that has apparently worn thin as Ellis’ shaggy bow, though given the nature of the instrumental, irrespective of factuality, these moments prove imperative.
For these verbose intros necessarily contextualise their rich, tapestry-esque instrumental narratives, thus jovially revealing the meanings to certain songs that even without these pronounced influences and inspirations mean so much to so many. The show hinges off ‘em as much as it does the rusted roll of the inimitably graceful Rising Below, or the ashen, powdery subtlety of Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone. A spectral tingler scribed with Ellis’ duly neglected emails to the deceased in mind, it tonight assumes an imperious magnificence to provoke a porcelain tear or two. Beautiful as life itself.
The irrefutable actuality is therefore that the Dirty Three are devilishly good live. And whether expelling demoniacal screeches from his Strad or unleashing all manner of restive hell upon his torso, Ellis is its orchestrator: wicked of tongue, and nimble of limb; vocally so averse to Coldplay, though less so to an almighty, melodramatic bout of cooing from we and they, in unison, as occurs in the final throes of a perfectly bereft Hope. It comes preceded with another yarn spun, this time of deep-throating at a Robbie Williams show. This one a stream of subconsciousness, Ellis reveals a deeper knowledge of popular culture than one may perhaps expect, thus suggesting that even his Parisian dwellings are susceptible to the deluge of unending smut stories vomited up by our reviled, yet for reasons unbeknownst unfailingly beloved British media.
Though the band couldn’t be further removed from Samsung-endorsed stadium blowouts and all that irredeemable dross. Though that said, perhaps the Empire is all too grandiose? Or at least it once was, before O2 inexplicably, and now indeed inextricably became affiliated with the thing. This is music surely intended to be found at the bottom of a murky glass in the backend o’ nowhere – nether regions brimming with swinging door bars with serrated, opaque jaws for windows that are punctuated only by ablaze barns set against a horizontal nothing. And as such, a certain degree of apathy is more widely diffused as the show wears on. Their compositions meander, each a river though some rivers are better suited to bathing than others: whilst a lavish take on The Pier is immersive enough to drown within, a typically languid Everything’s Fucked – the trio’s “attempt to write a hit single in the ’90s” – witnesses many wash themselves clean of all involvement. Some lost in chasms of inopportune chatter; others in reactionary shushing.
Doubtless they build a less easily penetrable ambience when there’s a little more jaunt to the jig, as there most definitely is with The Zither Player – a gem seemingly mined from the fertile folkloric quags of the Emerald Isle. And moreover, the ease with which this sits beside the violent, artillery-like barrages of Some Summers They Drop Like Flies – White’s flailing arms firing off rounds of fearsome Russian roulette clicks with a whitish knuckled vim – tells of their brilliant combined ability to effectively harness the ultimately irrepressible. Screechy horror flick strings here only heighten the intimidation faultlessly engendered.
Though words and words ago, I wrote of this being an in some way transitory splendour, for there is a sense tonight of impending end to the quest of these three journeymen. Flawless latest, Toward The Low Sun, was an incidental effort – they overcame their creative inertia, and truly believed that they had come up with a recording that begged to be heard. Then, and only then, were they willing to return to bear the fruits of their strenuous labours. It paid off, with a widely celebrated release and further revere, though as they momentarily leave us a-lingering Ellis perfunctorily intones: “We’ll see ya in a few years.” This would indubitably fit with the issuing of the Bad Seeds’ forthcoming Push The Sky Away (tentatively slated for a February 18th release this side o’ the world) so there is an inescapable and inexact ambiguousness to his words. Could this be the divergence of the Dirty Three? I’m unsure.
Were they not to come up with the goods – or at least an album they collectively deemed to be good enough – there would surely be no concrete assurances. Which is precisely why it’s such a catastrophic shame that an exasperating tangent detailing “the Valley of the Pauls” – a congregated miscellany of clog-wearing recording artists of the same name active across the latter decades of the 20th century magnetised by a McCartney [Paul; not Linda, needless to say] tomato sauce – thins the place out yet further. For the evening’s encore glints with the sublime at an almost supernal level. It is but the light, softened, and enlightening slush of Ashen Snow, and it’s wonderful. Truly, madly wonderful. To paraphrase Chris fucking Martin, it’s para-para-paradise. And if it’s the last we see or hear of them, well, it’s the most elegiac and silently prosaic final chapter imaginable. That derived from the purely instrumental. Tonight alone has been almost as lengthy as I assume are most Bon Jovi shows and although often slow, it never feels it. There’s sorcery to this, and it’s been utterly magical.