It’s been a while since I have seen Warren Ellis live for the first time. That is one of the landmark moments in everyone concert experience.
Ellis had joined the Bad Seeds transforming the sound of Nick Cave’s band. He took Cave out of the Murder Ballads downward spiral who was going to (artistically) kill him.
I have been a huge fan of the Bad Seeds since my early twenties, which account for a couple of decades of Nick Cave devotion.
I always loved the way Nick Cave balances his songwriting pomposity choosing the right eclectic musicians. Till mid-nineties, Mick Harvey and even more, Blixa Bargeld were key to transform such an unstable equilibrium into brilliancy.
The ballads period seemed to lose that balance. The po(m)p side was winning on the experimental post-punk of the earlier records.
That was the time when Warren Ellis joined the Bad Seeds. An earthquake that was followed by period of dramatic consequences. The first and obvious saw Blixa Bargeld departure to dedicate full time to Einstürzende Neubauten romantic industrialism. Giving the cacophonic role of the Bad Seeds to Ellis instantly was a letter of redundancy for Bargeld.
Impossible to have in the same ensemble two characters as them without considering that the clash of titans would have imploded with the departure of one.
That first menage a trois between me, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis was at the Hammersmith Apollo, when the Bad Seeds toured Nocturama. Nick Cave thanked Blixa and played one of the first show without him. It was 2003. It was an awesome concert that managed to get all the people in the velvet seats standing and singing along. I was stunned of what Ellis’ violin did to the Bad Seeds sound.
In the meanwhile he strengthened his bond with Nick Cave. They become part of Grinderman, a Bad Seeds spin-off that looked a clever way to exclude Mick Harvey from Cave band without sacking him.
Harvey coexisted with the two inseparable friends for the couple of Bad Seeds albums in between the Grinderman’s before the obvious happened: Mick Harvey left the Bad Seeds in 2009, since then touring with PJ Harvey.
That wasn’t just another line-up change news. After 36 years together to me it was like Keith Richard leaving The Rolling Stones.
Grinderman released a second album and they announced a split-up too last December. This didn’t look at all the same kind of break-up.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis collaboration hasn’t stopped. They also recorded several other things as a duo including a couple of soundtracks.
2012 arrived. For the first time in years, it looked the right moment for Warren Ellis to go back with Mick Turner and Jim White and concentrate to his first creature: Dirty Three. They released a new album Toward the Low Sun last February and toured it since.
Nick Cave announced a Bad Seeds album too. Without long gone Bargeld, recently gone Harvey and with Ellis busy with his band I am curious (and worried) to see what can come out of that.
All this intro about Cave and Ellis legacy looks a bit unbalanced on a Dirty Three post, I know. Nevertheless it is without doubt that thanks to him that Warren Ellis got a wider attention and a bigger public discovered the Dirty Three. I am one of those, about 15 years ago.
Furthermore it must be because of all the time that Ellis spent with Cave projects, the reason why for the first time in Dirty Three long career the fans of the trio had to wait 7 years since the latest Dirty Three wonderful album, Cinder (2005), and Toward the Low Sun (2012).
Dirty Three have been active for 20 years. They formed in Melbourne in 1992. They got the attention of Rolling Stone in 1996 when Horse Stories, their third fatigue, was praised by the magazine.
Dirty Three are an instrumental band and, as unfortunately happen when music journalism meets instrumental bands, they have been labelled post-rock. I believe because it’s the simplest, way to find them a genre.
It was mid-nineties after all. The renaissance of instrumental rock groups was spreading all over the world. Slint, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai to name the most important all fell into the no lyrics (or very few) category. Therefore: post-rock.
If you read a list of “post-rock-bands” you’ll meet so many different music realities that the exercise to keep them under the same roof is intrepid and meaningless.
There is clearly much more in Dirty Three instrumentalism than the layers of noise and quiet as the manual of the good post-rocker wants.
First of all they are a peculiar line-up. A violin, very often not played canonically, a guitar and drums. Then there are three spectacular musicians behind these instruments. Musicians that managed to balance much more than simply volume, which is more a technical artifice than a creative gift.
Ellis, Turner and White are unique to alternate experimentalism to the limit of noise and lyricism to the edge of ambient music.
This is where their sound stands out and it is on the records that this is crystalline.
Then there is the live show. And it is a different story.
Impulsiveness is uncontrolled without a producer behind the mixer. The tension between different personalities explodes in almost improvised jams that transform their journey in a sort of trance.
When the trio arrived onto the ATP stage at the London’s leg of I’ll Be Your Mirror festival last May that tension was palpable.
It took Ellis his usual assault to the violin and few kicks in the air to seduce the audience.
In his Miles Davis style looking away from the crowd to interact with the bandmates, the concert entered a spectacular crescendo that ended over a hour later.
Dirty Three live don’t weaves those melodies out of your speakers soundtracking your living room with the perfect atmosphere. This is an aggression to three musical instruments that are asked to do whatever their urge wants.
Warren Ellis is uncontainable, everyone knows. He knows.
He has to stop between songs to breathe. He tells jokes and break the pressure.
I wonder if it is a coincidence that he he looks like Josh T Pearson, he collaborates with Josh T Pearson and he uses live the same kind of humour of Josh T Pearson to break, as Josh T Pearson, the tension of otherwise almost unbearable songs.
If a manual of musician psychological types exist, they would belong to the same chapter.
Mick Turner and Jim White are different. They stand back calm and devote their personality on the music leaving the theatrical side of the show to Ellis. Which is the perfect character for such a role.
Even if you have never heard of them, a Dirty Three show is an experience that will conquer you from the beginning.
Dirty Three will be touring until the end of the year, both side of the Atlantic. They’re not very active on social media, you can track their dates on the [website] or maybe [myspace] and you can stream the new album Towards the Low Sun [here] or the entire discography on [spotify]
Since I moved to digital I mostly abandoned B&W after many years of faithful devotion. I love black and white though. The reason I don’t use it is because I don’t like digital black and white photos. I believe it is my fault and if I spent as much time on post-editing as I used to spend in the darkroom I am sure would improve the results.
But digital photography makes think easier and quicker and I dislike post-editing.
Black and white has become for me, instead of a creative expression, a trick to circumvent difficult conditions.
This is what happened when I downloaded Dirty Three images from my memory card.
The magenta/blue led lights made impossible to use the photos as they are and I had to modulate the saturation cursors and the B&W setting to the point of getting something usable.
Led lights, to what I understand (happy to hear your experience), use only one wavelength for each of RGB channel creating colours as the computer monitors. Without much modulation of the single tones, it makes pretty difficult to the DSLR sensor to modulate the tones.
For some reasons I discovered that desaturating the colours or eliminating them altogether the situation improves and some photos are usable.
Which is what I did in this set of photos and, for once, I am moderately pleased with the b&w rendition. The colour version of the same image, which I put here for comparison is useless.