Wayward adventures with the Dirty Three

The summer’s local concert activity following a quiet winter season is growing. Attractive events such as the capital’s WOMAD Festival in mid-June lie ahead, but concealed behind the publicity generated by upcoming large-scale events lies a discreet gem of a prospect named the Dirty Three. One of Australia’s less anticipated yet fully deserved international success stories in recent years, the act – an instrumental, melancholy, violin-led trio – will start a series of European dates with three shows in Greece at pint-sized venues in Athens and Thessaloniki, whose capacities severely undercut the band’s following. A last-minute inclusion to the program, «baroque» blues-rock artist Louis Tillett, currently in Greece on an extended visit, will open all three shows. The double-bill comes as a Greek reunion for the two acts several years after they had both opened stadium-sized shows for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds here. At the time, Warren Ellis, the Dirty Three’s violinist and frontman – a freak player whose emotionally charged, wayward playing can be mesmerizing – had just been recruited by the commercially successful Cave, an outspoken fan of the Dirty Three, for his own band. Ellis has since maintained his role as a Bad Seed, and, last year, also arranged Cave’s album «No More Shall We Part.» Years earlier, in the early 1990s, one of Australia’s most gifted contemporary songwriters, the late David McComb of the ’80s band The Triffids, had poured praise on the violinist, describing him as «Jimi Hendrix reincarnated» and the «best musician in Australia.» The two worked together on McComb’s only solo album, ’94’s «Love of Will,» and, for a while, as members of The Blackeyed Susans, a Triffids offshoot. Acclaim by peers for Ellis and the Dirty Three has been widespread. In recent years, the band has toured with noted figures such as John Cale and Beck. Critics, too, have been swayed. In 1997, the influential US magazine Rolling Stone voted the group’s «Horse Stories» album among the year’s best. Balanced between drama, melody and dissonance through an intuitive approach, the Dirty Three’s sound is compelling. Ellis and his bandmates, guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White – who have all played in scores of underground bands – have, so far, produced several acclaimed albums. Songs often begin quietly before gradually building up into a frenzy. Ellis, front-rowers may want to know, has often incurred onstage injuries. Despite their appeal, the Dirty Three’s sound tends to polarize audiences. At a US show in Tulsa, «we had this audience who threw dog biscuits at us, and porn, and bottle tops and paper and stuff,» Ellis recently told Melbourne daily The Age. «Then, that part of the audience who liked us started fighting with those people who hated us and there was this brawl, a really violent scene in front of us.» Definitely unique, the act is well worth experiencing, both on album and on stage on Thursday, at the Mesogeios Club, Thessaloniki (Hapsa & Karatassou), on Friday and Saturday at the Small Music Theater, Athens (33 Veikou). Day 2 (June 15): Badenya les Freres Coulibaly (Burkina Faso); Baaba Maal (Senegal); Pyx Lax (Greece); Rachid Taha (France/Algeria); Asian Dub Foundation (UK/Pakistan); Shaolin Monks (China); Sophia Spyratou Dance Theater (Greece).

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