A violin, guitar and drum kit is all it takes for three Australian men to create beautiful songs to grip you tight at night.
Dirty Three has achieved a perfect state of tension. Its music contradicts itself in all directions: somber yet uplifting, relaxing or emotionally upsetting, minimalist but intricate. The songs serve the listener's purpose, whatever that may be.
The instrumental format, though not a new concept, is a modern rarity. It challenges both writer and listener and is appreciated for its freedom of interpretation. Except for jazz, this music seldom accommodates mainstream appeal, and therefore many people may miss out on the experience due to lack of exposure.
Dirty Three, however, has that something that will strike a chord in everyone. Everyone, that is, who takes the opportunity to expose themselves to their live performances and records.
Warren Ellis, lead violin and viola, said he sees as many interpretations of Dirty Three's music as there are listeners, especially at their shows.
``Some people laugh a lot and some cry within that span of one and a half hours,'' Ellis said. ``What they read from our music is personal. We want our listeners to interpret the music for themselves in their own way. We like to see strong reactions, whether positive or negative.''
And even though the band writes to please themselves first, Ellis admits that the audience is an integral part of bringing the music to fruition.
``You can write a song or paint a painting, but that creation doesn't actually come alive until someone else has heard or seen it,'' Ellis said. ``Then it becomes something beautiful. You can't keep things like that tucked away and hidden, that would be sad. It is both the audience and the creator that give it life.''
The nautical theme and style of ``Ocean Songs,'' Dirty Three's new album, brings the aura of the Mediterranean to mind, and because Ellis has a passion for Greek and Eastern European folk music, this makes sense. You can almost hear waves lapping up against the sides of an offshore fishing boat, its white paint peeling and lone fisherman savoring the sun and ocean air.
The album, on Touch and Go Records, is the band's fourth release and comes with refreshed vigor and a matured, solid identity. It flows seamlessly with a self-confidence and fluidity not as prevalent on their previous more experimental and slightly taut records.
Ellis has removed the effects pedals from his violin and the result is an earthy, more traditional sound. And as usual, Steve Albini's production shines.
The band originally started as a jukebox substitute for background music at a friend's bar in Melbourne, Australia. Then, as a means to document their progress, they recorded their material.
Its first two albums, ``Sad & Dangerous'' on Poon Village Records and ``Dirty Three'' on Touch and Go, both consisted of these sessions and were released in 1995. ``Horse Stories,'' on Touch and Go, was recorded and released in 1996 after 10 months of touring.
``That record almost didn't make it,'' Ellis said. ``We were completely exhausted and after playing day in and day out for almost a whole year, the last thing we wanted to deal with was putting out a record.''
The band then took a long, well-needed and well-deserved rest. Mick Turner, guitar, and Jim White, drums, both settled in Chicago while Ellis went to live in Paris, France. Now, two years later, the hibernation has served them well, and Dirty Three are back at it again with renewed spirits.
Ellis is enthusiastic and reminiscent about returning to Lawrence on their current tour.
``The last time I was in Lawrence, I bought this beautiful piano accordion,'' Ellis said. ``It used to be an old lady's who played in a polka band every week. Someone stole it from our tour bus in Italy. It's one of the worst crimes ever to steal any musical instrument, no matter what.
``I've felt at a loss and I'm hoping to find another accordion when we come back to Lawrence.''
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