Live at The Sage, Gateshead

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On the night of the great North East flood (the third great flood of 2012 at that) two bands and a load of dedicate punters (mostly bearded men) braved the elements and were rewarded handsomely for their efforts. First up were Bristol’s Zun Zun Egui who got straight down to business with an Akron/Family/Funkadelic-alike mix of possessed chanting, ridiculous distorted bass riffs and sharp turns around confusing musical corridors. In fact, in many songs there seems to be a red herring in every verse, just when you think you’ve got them sussed they’ll break things down or go into some crazy math rock which will leave you pleasantly baffled. There’s a few mis-steps on the way, including some ill advised vocal harmonies, and they occasionally find themselves relying on well trodden classic rock clichés, but their set climaxes in spectacular fashion. Their scatterbrain jazz-rock and African influences come back to the fore on a mind-altering extended “Fandango Fresh”, which is followed by a crowd-invasion by 50% of the band and even some Monday night dancing by soggy audience members. When the Dirty Three turn up you know for a fact that you’re going to get a unique performance, and although the songs titles may be the same from date to date, the band’s improvisational skills give them a new life. To begin with though, the main man himself, Warren Ellis, talks to the audience about a dream he had in which he shaved Chris Martin’s head to reveal 666 tattooed upon it, and that the Coldplay singer was the demon offspring of Bono Vox and Paul McCartney. He frequently returns to these train of consciousness interludes, taking in subjects as diverse as Bon Jovi, Paul Gadd, Linda Lovelace, Robbie Williams, Bono (again, this time in lederhosen), LSD and Amphetamines to name a few, always straddling a fine line between knowing humour and madness. The music on the other hand is simply breath-taking. Opening with “Rain Song” which sees Ellis moving around the stage like a hairy(er) Jarvis Cocker and attempting to swing from the balcony. On “Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone”, perhaps the most abstract piece from their latest album (Toward The Low Sun), Ellis tells the soundman: “make me sound like Billy Joel” and we’re treated to a pulsating and intense ten minutes of true jazz improvisation. This is not Billy Joel. “The Pier” builds up to a spine tingling peak (which couldn’t be achieved without the perfectly timed, yet off kilter guitar strums and quiet/loud drums courtesy of the ever engaging Mick Turner and Jim White), its live metamorphosis being quite unlike the album counterpart. What’s clear by now is that underneath the madness of the Dirty Three there is always stark beauty. Our first glimpses of older material come in the form of “The Restless Waves” from Ocean Songs, a true classic in anyone’s book and “Everything’s Fucked”. On the former Ellis plays his violin like Chuck Berry plays a guitar and on the latter he borrows a demented shriek from the aforementioned Bono’s “With Or Without You”. They wrap things up with “Lullaby For Christie” which is sparse, sprawling and astonishingly delicate gradually slowing down to complete silence, for just a few seconds, eventually punctuated by an overwhelmed Geordie who shouts “Fuckin’ Geniuses!”. I was going to end with some sort of weather/musical apocalypse analogy but the overwhelmed Geordie summed it up much better then I ever could.