Dirty Three Lee's Palace, Toronto ON - April 6, 2003

Dirty Three Lee's Palace, Toronto ON - April 6, 2003
Wearing a face mask as an off-colour poke at the SARS outbreak, watching the Dirty Three's whimsical Warren Ellis — love him or hate him — certainly made for an interesting evening. Whether artificially intoxicated or naturally aloof, the violinist/leader of the Melbourne, Australia instrumental trio began the performance by playfully eating a banana onstage. For songs without lyrics, Ellis had rambling but hilarious dissertations on virtually all of their supposed meanings. Rounded out by guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White, the trio began with "Alice Wading," the leadoff track from their recently released She Has No Strings Apollo. While Ellis played a pizzicato melody, Turner and White provided distorted noise and gentle rhythms, respectively. At other times, Ellis coaxed forth expressive melodies with his bow, while Turner finger-picked slightly dissonant chords. Throughout the set, White switched effortlessly between sticks, brushes and mallets, sometimes all during the same song, as he provided a continuously shifting rhythmic backdrop for the band's bittersweet soundscapes. Collectively, the Dirty Three oscillated between moments of fragile subdued beauty to intense cacophonous jams that seemed to contradict their minimal size. Although their set inevitably melded into one giant abstract melancholy song, Ellis countered this by munching his banana at regular intervals as a metaphor for the evening's progress. When the banana was finished, so was the show, which concluded with the epic "Sue's Last Ride." Thankfully, Ellis's refreshingly eccentric touches prevented the performance from succumbing to art-rock pretension. Even more remarkable was that the Dirty Three spoke so eloquently of loneliness, heartbreak and regret without uttering a single word.