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KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD @ The Astor gets 9/10


King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
@ Astor Theatre
w/ Mildlife, Bitch Diesel
Saturday, July 13, 2019

9/10

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard stand in a league of their own. In the last five years alone they have released 11 albums, with a 12th due in a month. In the process they have crafted their own musical language, delivering a psych-infused take on every genre under the sun. Be it garage, punk, surf rock, progressive, or even jazz, King Gizzard have been there. Drummer Michael Cavanagh wore a Frank Zappa shirt tonight, and the nod is appropriate. As with Zappa, listening to King Gizzard means stepping into their musical world, where all lyrical ideas and genre tropes are refracted through the Gizz-lens. With a bigger and wider-ranging discography than most bands twice their age, King Gizzard now have the luxury of keeping audiences guessing. A King Gizzard live show is a delightful exercise in ‘what next.’ I’ve seen them four times and each gig has had a flavour of its own. This one was perhaps their best in WA thus far.

Bitch Diesel

Opening the night were two bands that represented opposing sides of the King Gizzard coin. The brawn and the brains, if you will. Repping the gritty heart of the Gizz were Bitch Diesel and they had this front covered. This young all-girl three-piece seriously impressed with a lumberingly heavy amalgam of Sabbath-esque metal, grunge and surf rock. The vocals were soaring and spooky, underpinned by some relentless rhythm guitar drones and great distorted bass work.

Mildlife

Mildlife were on next, checking off the brainier side of King Gizzard’s influences (read: jazz and progressive rock). Mildlife are a four-piece from Melbourne who play mechanically tight, psych-inflected jazz fusion, but with a heavy emphasis on danceable grooves. Consider me a convert – I’ve been cranking the band’s catalogue nonstop since the gig, and was devastated that I couldn’t make their standalone gig at Mojos. Frontman Adam Halliwell’s seductively spacey jazz guitar solos were to die for, drawing applause on several occasions. The guitar and keyboard tones covered a lot of ground, from sax imitating runs to whooshing space disco synth sounds. Despite the technical proficiency on show, the focus was always on groove, and these jazz disco tunes lit up the crowd and got them moving.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

And now onto King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, as they answered the question of ‘what Gizz will we see tonight’. The answer was surprising. The band made a stylistic choice to avoid the hyper-speed motorik punk that defined their breakthrough Nonagon Infinity. Crowd favourites from Nonagon, as well as the I’m in Your Mind suite and Rattlesnake, were not featured. The two Nonagon cuts they played were telling. There was the boogie stomp of Wah Wah and the proto-thrash of Road Train. Indeed, those were the two main ingredients of the night– boogie and thrash – and they both came off wonderfully.

Gizz’s upcoming album, Infest the Rats Nest, is their ode to 80s metal, and the gig’s opening numbers were a taster. Self-Immolate and Hell hit the ground running with a ferocious thrash metal assault reminiscent of early Metallica and Megadeth. King Gizzard were simply made to thrash – the band played off this style perfectly, and the sound of two drummers pounding away on double-kicks threatened to bury the crowd. They returned to more metal cuts later in the night, showcasing songs Venusian 1 and Perihelion. But particularly impressive was Mars for the Rich, an epic fist-pumping grunge metal number that is bound to be a future live staple.

Following on from the initial onslaught the band deftly transitioned to proggier pastures with a four-song medieval prog suite masterclass from their 2017 effort Polygondwanaland. Crumbling Castle, The Fourth Colour, The Castle in the Air and Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet were executed to perfection. This is quite a feat given their tricky time signatures, polyrhythms and harmonized chanting vocals. Somewhere out there, Tool are taking notes.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

For fans of Gizzard’s pop side there was a lovably warm rendition of Stressin’, and a brilliant take on Hot Water. Mildlife genius Adam Halliwell took the stage again for flute duties and carried the tune off to perfection. He injected some seriously moody passages reminiscent of prime Doors, extending this into a spacious Eastern-tinged jam.

However, the revelation of the night was the band’s complete mastery of the boogie. Their latest release, Fishing for Fishies, deals in various toe-tappingly catchy variations on boogie rock. King Gizzard must be keenly aware of the genre’s live potential because they absolutely killed it on these songs. Boogieman Sam was immense fun with the song’s main calling cards – its guitar shuffle and tasty harmonica – amplified to high heaven. Boogie-Krautrock hybrid Cyboogie came next. The vintage vocoder effect didn’t come through on Stu McKenzie’s vocal as clearly as may have been intended, but the power of the track’s synth grind ensured that all was forgiven. Acarine’s epic build and harmonica riffs were captured perfectly live, and This Thing was transformed live into a strutting, swaggering boogie monster, arguably the highlight of the show. And they boogied through the triumphant finale, turning the under-looked cut Bitter Boogie from 2016 folk-pop effort Paper Mache Dream Balloon into an all-out boogie epic, complete with redundantly repetitive blues lyrics and a wonderful warbling vocal and harmonica performance from Ambrose Kenny-Smith. It was a bit overlong, but King Gizzard carried it off with such fun and conviction that you couldn’t help but love it.

In short, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard once again proved why they’re must-see entertainment and deserving of cult status. Tonight they chose to be Metallica and ZZ Top rolled into one, and they trumped both bands at their own game. Till next time!

MATIJA ZIVKOVIC

Photos by Zev Weinstein

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