photo : John Robb
Could there be a more perfect venue for Dirty Three than Manchester Cathedral?
With its carnal cloisters and grand beams, it’s industrial revolution era concrete mixed with the remnants of mediaeval remains, it’s damp, cold & very northern grandeur somehow suits therese hairy scamps with their very unlikely live set. A live set that still manages to alternate between Warren Ellis’s long, rambling stories and his violin driven songs that manage to combine melancholia and a euphoric madness with an astonishing ease.
Formed twenty years ago in Melbourne the band have released a clutch of critically acclaimed albums that have been built around their semi-improvised seat of the pant instrumentals that capture the mood by it’s throat and never let go shaking it down into the ground with a precise musicianship that can only come from purely instinctive playing and a real feel for what they are doing. Ellis, who also moonlights in Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, cuts an impressive figure on stage with his wild, tousled, pirate beard and, er, wild, tousled, pirate eyes.
Framed by long seaweed strands of long hair he looks like a last survivor on a desert island armed only with the ship’s violin cranked with a grubby old guitar pick up taped to its body and a fistful of tales that he regales his rescuers with.
Somewhere in that bug eyed insanity there is a deep wisdom, in both the music and the rambles. Eliis may be a great presence on stage but he is only one corner of an eternal triangle – the perfect number for any band where there can be no hiding. With drummer Jim White providing a powerful and burly backbeat and Mick Turner on guitar really fleshing the sound out they create a powerful sound that is both hypnotic in its droning power and captivating in its atmospheres.
As the sweat shod Eliis flails his angular frame for one last song, his physical presence is totally consumed by the music and his spotted shirt stained with sweat and emotion. His head drops back and his violin bow points to the heavens, he catches site of his shadow on the opposite wall of the venue and is transfixed by its flickering presence on the cathedral’s back wall and cracks a surly gag as the band crash into one final crescendo.
It’s a perfect Dirty Three moment.