The zany Australian psych-rockers brought the apocalyptic prophecies of their latest album to One Eyed Jacks last Thursday.
Add four parts Can, three parts OCS, two parts Sabbath, and (if you must) one part Rush to your biggest, blackest cauldron, and boil over volcanic rock from Mount Doom. Stir slowly with a broken broomstick and simmer on low heat. Set aside to cool in John Dwyer’s shadow for seven albums, then flash fry, and you’ve got King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
Led by musical madman and probable part-time dungeonmaster Stu Mackenzie, the Australian psych rock superfreaks stormed One Eyed Jacks Thursday night, with newly reconvened local punk group BABES opening.
BABES brought their signature raucous energy beneath the red curtains, but the sell-out crowd only showed up in full force as their set was wrapping up, just before 10. A mixed bag of punks, festers, DIY heads, and post-grad hipsters spilled down the steps into the barely-lowered standing area and pushed together in a sweaty melee, jostling for position before the show had even begun.
When King Gizzard entered the stage and jumped right into the middle of Murder of the Universe, their second release of 2017, the mosh was on immediately. Sensing the intense energy already coursing through the room, Mackenzie paused after finishing the prog rock interlude “Welcome to an Altered Future” and reminded the crowd to “go nuts, but take care of each other." Next came “Digital Black,” an Ozzy-inspired death march into apocalyptic darkness.
During their first two songs, the 7-piece group was joined by an eighth member: a disillusioned half-android named Han-Tyumi (probably hiding somewhere backstage, since his voice came through the speakers disembodied), who waxed pessimistically on human nature. After “Digital Black,” he got his big monologue, “Han-Tyumi, the Confused Cyborg."
“I am bereft of two human things,” he said. “Death, and to vomit.
“I want the perspiration, I want the nausea, I want to be sick,” he continued. “I want to feel the hot piquant nuggets. I want it to find passage through my cold figure. I want to make a mess. I want the odour, I want the spectacle, and I want it again.”
The image of the post-apocalyptic, vomiting cyborg is the through line for the final segment of Murder Of The Universe, and the most compelling of the three separate mini-stories that make up the album. Logically, I expected the band to use this chilling end-of-days tale to close out the show, but King Gizzard have their own way of doing things.
After the Han-Tyumi story, they played “Lord of Lightning,” part of a much less original MOTU storyline about a battle between two mythic beings, one of whom is Tolkien’s Balrog.
Next, they jumped back in time (if only a few months) to play a stretch of songs from Flying Microtonal Banana, their first release of the year. In the sweaty din of the mosh, it was unclear whether the instruments the band played were the “jail-broken” ones with microtonal capabilities that they used to make the album. Mackenzie did a lot of flute-playing during this run, but to the naked eye and ear, his flute did not appear to be magic.
The crowd didn’t seem to care either way. They went nuts for the driving repetition of “Rattlesnake,” and continued to head bang and crowd surf into softer tracks like “Doom City” and “Sleep Drifter.” By the time the FMB section of the show ended, the band had shown no signs of tiring, but the crowd was beginning to burn out. They’d left the gate at a sprint, and King Gizzard was giving them a marathon.
The set’s penultimate portion was the “Altered Beast” suite, the first part of MOTU. On the album, it’s a slog—eight songs alternating in title between “Altered Beast” and “Alter Me,” accompanied by verbose spoken word poetry, without much lyrical or thematic variation between them—and while it certainly felt long during the show, it made more sense live.
The songs flowed into each other organically, which allowed King Gizzard to put their penchant for experimentation on full display. Mackenzie’s flute was back, as was keyboardist Ambrose Kenny Smith’s harmonica, and they used the ethereal elements of their aerophone woodwinds to augment the tracks’ traditional metal aesthetics.
The suite was an extended jam that circled back on favored licks and motifs and rammed them into our ears, along with the overwrought message of Satanic transformation that becomes painfully clear by “Altered Beast III.”
Near the start of the section, guitarist Cook Craig stopped the show dead in its tracks to break up a fight that had started up front. By the end of the run, the crowd was lulled into a semi-trance, and fighting felt out of the question. Had we ourselves been altered?
The spell broke when Mackenzie cut “Altered Beast IV” short and jumped into “Robot Stop,” the opening track of King Gizzard’s first international success, Nonagon Infinity (2016). The track marked a return to the band’s older material, and before the night was through, they had taken us back to 2014’s I’m in Your Mind Fuzz. In a set dominated by 2017 material, the finale was a nod to the rest of the band’s short yet insanely prolific career.
The ambitious Aussies dropped an excellent collab album with Mild High Club in August, and have their sights set on releasing two more projects before the year is out. With all that content, there are sure to be some misses in the mix (how do you top murdering the universe?), but the drive is admirable. And wherever their future recordings take them, King Gizzard’s raw energy will always impress live.