State Theatre, January 15
And God spake, saying, "Blessed are the rule-breakers, for they pave the road that others tread." And God knows that 26 years on Dirty Three continue to break all the rules. Ostensibly they are a rock band, but one without singer or bassist; one that predominantly plays at very slow tempos, often in 3/4, and then commits the even greater sin of playing rubato.
In Jim White they have a drummer who uses mallets and brushes more than sticks; who plays around the beat like a jazz drummer, and generates energy levels to match John Bonham or Elvin Jones. Mick Turner, meanwhile, is rock guitar's ultimate anti-hero, playing straight man to the others' wiles, and playing arpeggios in preference to power chords or screaming high notes.
That the third instrument is a violin already sets Dirty Three apart. That the violinist is Warren Ellis would be enough to make them all stand in the corner, were life an eternal preschool. He is allegedly the front man, yet mostly plays with his back to the audience. That's when he's not manically contorting his lanky, angular body in response to the surrounding musical holocaust.
Then you listen closely to the music – which isn't hard, because it's very LOUD – and absorb the astounding array of echoes and influences, from Americana to the great romantic composers, from bush ballads to free jazz, and from indie rock to pastoral ambience.
Rather than being magpies pinching whatever bright sounds catch their collective ear, however, Dirty Three constitutes a giant mincing machine, so all that is fed in comes out sounding like nothing before.
They relish space, yet are also masters of density and drama, with the shifts between these extremes having a delightful unpredictability.
At peak intensity, as on Some Summers They Drop Like Flies and Ember, they build not walls of sound but colossal towers of the stuff, so you sit in awe of the sheer monstrosity of it all. No mean feat for what was once a Melbourne pub band.