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Live Review: Dirty Three, Mirel Wagner

18 January 2016 | 1:24 pm | Danielle O'Donohue

"In the stunning surrounds of the State Theatre, Ellis, Mick Turner and Jim White were at their visceral and demented best."

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Mirel Wagner created a beautiful mood of eerie mystery as the warm-up to Dirty Three's first Sydney show in three years. Wagner's dark, lyrical storytelling was accompanied by her gentle, finger-picked, guitar-playing. Cohen-esque characters wandered through ghostly woods or mused on mortality. Though Wagner was alone on stage she was a commanding presence and held the crowd spellbound.

There was little fanfare for the Dirty Three. Warren Ellis walked on stage carrying his violin case and almost immediately launched into a tale of long-ago road trips, too many amphetamines and playing a ragged set at Kinsellas, after which the band was told, "You will never play this town again."

Twenty-something years later there are few bands in Australia, perhaps even the world who can hold a candle to the Dirty Three in full flight. And in the stunning surrounds of the State Theatre, Ellis, Mick Turner and Jim White were at their visceral and demented best. The band barely wasted any time before paying homage to recently passed away Easybeats frontman Stevie Wright with the disappointingly fitting, Some Summers They Drop Like Flies. The David Bowie dedication was saved for the stunning ebb and flow of set highlight Authentic Celestial Music, White's loosely brushed snare and Turner's rock solid guitar base overlaid with Ellis' howling violin, the song's slowly built frenzy a cathartic release of tension.

Ellis' between song banter was dry and self-deprecating, as he joked about being engaged to Rupert Murdoch and being asked to play the now famous guitarist in Mad Max: Fury Road, but when each epic composition began Ellis' striking figure, all legs and uncontrollable beard, prowled and stalked his way around the stage, whooping and wailing, high-kicking and attacking his violin at an astonishing pace.

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The Dirty Three live experience is impossible to replicate on CD or MP3. Let's hope we get to enjoy it for a few more years yet.