Dirty Three

Sad and Dangerous(Poon Village 1995)


The title of the Dirty Three’s debut album is an apt declaration of what was accomplished here. There is something elegant and anguished at work here being performed by a trio who was simultaneously masterful and rough around the edges. They were a bit of a paradox at the outset before they sanded away some of the jagged edges into a more streamlined and contoured unit. I do love all of the albums that followed, but Sad and Dangerous is forceful, direct and embraces its imperfections and outbursts where subsequent releases just aimed for a musical approximation of loneliness, regret and despair. Worthwhile pursuits to be sure, but this one was full of piss and vinegar too and it’s essence is a prickly and difficult beast.

Culled from a demo cassette recorded in 1992-1993, Sad and Dangerous captures the brilliant beginnings of a trio exploring the parameters of what was possible in an instrumental rock band with  violinist Warren Ellis as its centerpiece underpinned by an understated, but at times ferocious combo of guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Mick White. Their occasional swan dives into dissonance aren’t surprising since Turner and White previously played in the abrasive punk band Venom P. Stinger in the 80s. Other times, White and Turner sound like a stumbling drunk Grant Green jazz session only to rein themselves into a more mellow throb and strum that wouldn’t sound out of place on some forgotten 70s pastoral psych jam. They are the engine that drives this locomotive down its wayward and winding road and really fill in the background with some gorgeous and visceral melodies and brash and brutal stabs of noise that set a grand stage for Warren Ellis to glorify and mangle all that is good and great about the violin.

If Turner and White were responsible for painting the background of the canvas, Warren Ellis’s bold and vivid brushstrokes were splattered all over the foreground as he rightfully claimed the spotlight on both their recorded work and revelatory live performances. I remember seeing them on their first American tour and still remember the magical feeling during the opening strains of “Kim’s Dirt” as I realized within a few minutes that this was going to be one of those performances that forcefully suck you into the immediacy of the moment and are struck by the epiphany that you are witnessing greatness as it occurs. Yeah, Ellis’ drunken banter and rambunctious stage presence got everyone’s attention pretty quickly, but there was something truly romantic and vast about the melodies that emanated from his instrument. It swallowed you whole and conjured memories both ecstatic and romantic as well as troubled and tragic as each swell of sound gathered you in the palm of its hand like an impressionable child. It was a truly moving experience that was full of humor, drama, fuck-ups and true suspense which are incredibly rare qualities in a live or recorded event. Now, it was a bit disappointing when I traveled to see them a second and third time only to see Ellis use the same stories and schtick, but I refused to let it debase the purity of the first time I saw them perform.

Sad and Dangerous fittingly begins with the best moment of the career “Kim’s Dirt”, which is ironically not even written by the band, but by Kim Salmon of the equally brilliant Australian band, the Scientists. It encapsulates everything that is special about the band into a single ten-minute epic. The voyage begins with a deceptively simple and minimal guitar riff that gracefully putters along until Ellis breaks out the waterworks and delivers his best performance as he literally wrings every ounce of emotion out of each pull of the bow. It slowly builds and builds upon this pattern until they ever so gradually pick up the pace to hypnotic trot that continuously threatens to break into a sprint, but never does so in favor of a precarious control over a melody that threatens to topple over at any moment. “Devil in the Hole” is notable because it delves into chaos and clatter as an accompaniment and reveals a side of the band that should’ve been explored again, but rarely ever was. “You Were a Bum Dream” could almost be from the heyday of the 4ad or ECM labels due to its ethereal and ghostly ambiance and kind of foreshadows Ellis’ later career scoring such films as The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James. It is fitting that Sad and Dangerous’ closer is as abstract and difficult as its opening is warm and inviting as “Turk” buries its beauty under a swath of drones and feedback as if the band was not content with attaining beauty, but was interested in its seedy underbelly. I miss this side of the Dirty Three and wish they’d revel in the tatters and shards again for a little while. However, Sad and Dangerous is a reminder of when they were unsure of which way was up and the music was all the more powerful for it.


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Today’s Mood #1

November 1, 2009

Sometimes a whole album doesn’t quite lift the fingers onto my grubby keyboard. I can’t quite muster the oomph necessary to inflate my words past that one song that is slowly worming its way into my daily thoughts. Plus, sometimes I just want to say my ephemeral peace and move onto other chores in my daily agenda. Anyhow, this will be the first of a frequent series of posts devoted to a single song. If I find myself whistling it in the morn, you can be sure I will be sharing it in the eve.

Bill Fay

“Garden Song” from s/t album


Prevailing winds have blown a big ass storm into my general vicinity, so here I sit waiting for the beginning of the World Series. To be honest, the anticipation is akin to the mosquito-covered tootsies depicted above my worrisome words. However, I walked into my backyard and blankly stared at my ghetto garden as the rain nourished the weeds and I thought of this song. This is kind of ill-fitting since it romanticizes death and his subsequent burial so he can commune with roots and maggots. Dude even goes so far as to devote lyrics to his conversations with muddy critters that pick and poke at his own personal compost pile. It’s a fitting tune for this Halloween as it literally explores the old-fashioned ditty where the “worms crawl in , the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle in your snout.” Well, my father was known to take liberties with his vocal interpretations of children’s song, so I may be speaking to an empty room.

Anyhow, “Garden Song” possesses such a morbid grace. Fay eloquently waxes about the beauty of nature and the cyclical nature of our existence using a simple garden as an obvious, but effective metaphor for hippie ideals where yesterday’s ashes blossom another day. It is a song about sad conclusions and how they ultimately lead to rebirth. Fay celebrates surrender because he knows that this can only lead to a new battle tomorrow.Ha! I guess that is the reason I am anxiously awaiting the start of Phillies game in hope of late night redemption.

Gastr Del Sol

Camoufleur (Drag City 1996)


Forever will I be a hopeless sucker for the changes in season. It isn’t always a basket of puppies and Wawa hoagies since fall’s slide into winter gives me a taste of the lonesomes. Since it is safe to say that I’ve bid those months adieu, spring has definitely fulfilled its old role and friend and rejuvenator of withered spirits. No matter how many rings accumulate inside my trunk, spring serves as an annual starting line for  a giddy gambol filled with newfound optimism, budding friendships, repaired and broken hearts and the liberating feeling of being out and about in this grand old world. It’s when you rediscover the fact that it’s time to get your hands dirty and hit those high notes or fall flat on your foolish face. Pardon my hyperbolic descriptions of the seasons, but they are all so distinct to me that it seems I sometimes view life as the passing of seasons, not years. Then again, I am also the one who harbors an irrational fear that sharks lurk in every body of water.

Oh yeah, this is supposed to be about an album isn’t it? Well, there is actually a method to my malingering. “The Seasons Reverse,” the opening track on Gastr Del Sol’s grand finale Camoufleur, always embodied these sensitivities to the seasons.

september reverses and the equinoxes flip

winter turns into fall

when glimpsed in leaps of nine months or more

the seasons reverse

they swing back and fall forward

they reshuffle when you touch down at long intervals

they shuffle because it’s been more than two years

first seeing you in a snow bank

then a sweater

then a swelter

they rehsuffle with leaps of some time

or reshuffle with leaps of distance

This song kind of epitomizes the reasons behind the band’s demise. I love it because it sounds like two musicians doing their own thing in total separation from the other. David Grubbs aims for minimalism as he croaks his off kilter harmonies while Jim O’Rourke opposes him by tossing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix. However, that’s what sparks the magic here. O’Rourke performs an extreme makeover on Grubbs, removes his horn-rimmed glasses, messes up his hair a bit and transforms the asexual into the sensual. The damn song even ends with a steel drum coda. Now, we’re talking! It just symbolizes the joy of the new and the comfort to be found in the romanticizing of the old. It’s conflicted and full of regret and positivity. It’s all over the goddamn place, but I like folks who are goddamn all over the place.

On one level, Camoufleur is a lot like the Mirror Repair ep and Upgrade and Afterlife ep with its dependence on spare piano jaunts, mournful melodies and sparse aesthetic. However, you can sense that Jim O’Rourke didn’t give a shit about following Grubbs anymore and he sabotages each song in the best way possible. Field Recordings, french horns, long organ solos and grimy bursts of noise punctuate many songs. It’s a schizophrenic listen, but somehow it flows together perfectly in an unexpected and jarring way. Then yet again, I’m the kind of creep who would eat risotto, pad thai and kielbasi in one sitting.

Pencil me in as a sucker for Markus Von Oehlen’s stark cover art. It’s a depiction of two sets of hands joined in unison while two sets of mouths vie to be first in line to grasp a set of musical instruments below.  Plus, I love how it’s so wintry with its abundance of whites and smudgy greys, but the lines are in constant motion as if a change is gonna come. Whether its inclusion was intentional or not, it sums up the end of a partnership and the a shift of season all in one. Any way you slice it, Camoufleur tackles the end of a partnership while making something elegant out a potentially awkward situation

Royal Trux-Thank You

August 13, 2008

Royal Trux

Thank You (Virgin 1995)


There was a time in the late 90s and early on in this decade where this may have been one of the best live acts in a sorry period in rock and roll. No one really gives them the time of day anymore and their major label albums can be had for a few bucks. Ignore the ignoramuses because this band had an amazing streak of albums that abandoned the heroin-addled experimental genius of Twin Infinitives and embraced the boogie rock and Rolling Stones worship that always lay beneath the surface. Everything from 1993s Cats and Dogs to 2000s Pound for Pound stood out like a sore thumb amidst what was popular during this time, but you won’t find a more fried take on Jagger and Richards.

During the oddball rush to sign indie acts in the 90s, Royal Trux somehow wrangled a major label deal with Virgin records and got David Briggs, producer of most of Neil Young’s catalogue as well as Spirit’s best work, to take the reins of this album. His influence is readily apparent as this is their most cohesive album as he transforms the band into something resembling Southern rock and the Stones. However, there is no dolling up Jennifer Herrema’s throaty growl, but Hagerty seems like he is in heaven as he can channel his 70s heroes in the hands of a great producer.

Personally, I like Royal Trux much better during their return to Drag City with Accelerator and Veterans of Disorder. These albums reconciled the chaos of their early albums with the big riffs of their Virgin years, but I always had a soft spot for the one moment where Royal Trux was dusted off and presented to the masses as a grandiose rock band. It is even more fitting that Sweet Sixteen, the next album owed to Virgin, featured a toilet full of shit on its cover and some dense, almost Beefheartian shit that I am still digesting. God love this band and their weird and wonderful career.


Spirit of Yma (Twisted Village 1990)


A lot of folks have downloaded Vermonster’s Instinctively Human from a previous post, so I figured that its predecessor would be a welcome surprise. If you missed the first post, Vermonster is Wayne Rogers and Kate Biggar’s band before Crystallized Movements and Major Stars as well as their many worthwhile solo and side projects. This one has more “songs” but it is still an unholy racket. Instead of a total freakout, Spirit of Yma predicts the direction they would take with Crystallized Movements, but far noisier and fucked. It isn’t easy listening, but listen closely and you’ll hear the beauty hidden beneath the din. Lots of fuzz, wah-wah and shredding strings abound on this one.