Dirty Three @ The Tivoli, 22.03.2012

Tonight’s support act, Lost Animal, are already playing when I get to The Tivoli. There’s no one in the photo pit and I don’t check to see whether it’s still in the first three songs. They continue to play for a good while afterwards so maybe I should have checked as  I might have been OK to photograph.  In part I don’t ask because it’s so dark on stage and I know the photos are unlikely to be anything any good.

While not photographing Lost Animal, I find out after all this time that The Tivoli does cider now; Bulmers, in both apple and pear varieties and for a not too unreasonable $7.50. I mean you could almost get 2 pints for that in the UK but still. In all these years of photographing at The Tivoli, I think this is the first time I’ve ever drunk anything that hasn’t been from the free jugs of water sat at the end of the bar. I’ve never drunk there because the cost was (and still is) so prohibitive for non-beer related alcoholic drinks. Depending on what you get, it’s still $11 or $11.50 for a can of mixed spirit, more than £7.50 at the current exchange rates and, with near parity between the Australia and the US currencies, about the same in US Dollars as it is in Australian Dollars. Not sure if any Americans would be paying $11 for a drink at a venue but doubt it.

When the Dirty Three amble, unannounced and without any fanfare, onto the stage, I’m too slow in waiting for some lights to be turned on and so miss the opportunity to replicate Jim Marshall’s Johnny Cash photos with Warren Ellis giving me the finger from a couple of metres away. It turns out to be a long wait until the lighting does improve and by that time it’s well after the first three songs.

It’s a lot better crowd that last week for Bon Iver, a lot more respectful and a lot less annoying. And yet they seem a bit lethargic and, to be honest, I’m feeling no different. The band play for almost 2 ½ hours and it goes on late, really late. I thought the Tivoli had a curfew but the band don’t stop until after 11:40pm. Given how things work, not just in Brisbane but in other cities, I wonder if this will all change when the finish the residential development parts of the RNA Showgrounds on the other side of the street from The Tivoli. But tonight, although people are enjoying it, it’s almost like they’re also willing for it to end so they can go home. Even before the end, well before the last song of the main set and subsequent encore, groups of people are turning their backs on the stage and heading towards the exit.  They’re possibly the people relying on mid-week public transport to get back home, which makes it problematic for any show going on past 11:30pm.

It’s a good show – I don’t think it’s possible for the Dirty Three to play a bad show –  but it just doesn’t feel as good as previous times I’ve seen them. I guess I was really spoilt when I saw them play five times in six weeks at the end of 2009/start of 2010 (including three times in a week) and especially seeing them play an impromptu Horse Stories set at ATP Inbetween Days to a hundred or so people. I’m trying to think what it is that’s not making it work for me, and while there is the Thursday night, long-working-week, long-gig lethargy, I think it’s also because I end up in the back half of the venue after I’ve finished photographing.

From here my view of the band is almost non-existent, although at times I can see the top of Warren Ellis’s head, sometimes I can see Mick Turner as he momentarily steps out of the shadows and very occasionally, when the crowd parts in just the right way, I can even see the top of Jim White’s head. What I start to realise from this vantage point is that if you come out to see the Dirty Three play live, you have to see the Dirty Three play live. Given that one of the band is sat down for the duration, another barely moves from his spot way out to the side of the stage and the third member of the group largely plays with back to the crowd throughout the performance, it’s a strange concept, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

As I’ve said previously, watching Jim White play is something you have to see. If there’s a list of 1,001 musicians you have to see before you die, studying and revelling in his technique at close quarters should be towards the very top of the list, and, as ever, he is in superb form tonight. He is undoubtedly just one of The Great Drummers, someone who’s up there with anyone you could ever think of, up there with the Bonhams and the Moons. But as well as missing out on the close details, it’s also about missing out on watching the interplay between the three of them when you don’t have an unobstructed view of the band. Warren Ellis’s surreal banter is always a delight (even though he manages to find a different song each time that he introduces as being about “being in a hole”) but it’s the unspoken communication between the band as they play that makes them so special, not just Warren Ellis’s high kicks to denote a change in movement within the song, but the eye contact between them, as they look to each other and almost psychically decide between themselves where the song is going to go next. Standing away from the front, you can hear but don’t get to see the chemistry between the three of them. Without this I just don’t think you don’t get to fully appreciate or understand the full impact of the Dirty Three’s live show. Last time I saw them at The Tivoli I don’t think I strayed far from the photo pit after the three songs and have a feeling I deliberately came out of the pit on the far side by the stairs so that I could watch the show from the best seat in the house. Next time they play here I might have to try that tactic again.

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