Images courtesy of Charlotte Rudd
A clamour of excited voices built to a crest as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard set up onstage, each member tuning up a series of outlandish guitars themselves – a seeming rejection of the amenities awarded to a group of their newfound prestige. Despite the ever-growing successes of the past few years, King Gizzard appear grounded in their accolades: as comfortable upon the lofty podium of the sold-out Albert Hall as in a dim red-neon-bar back room. The question of how they’ll approach their extensive back catalogue hangs in the air, with a prolific output ranging from gentle winding folk to fuzzed out psych-rock, it’s uncertain as to what flavour of night we’re in for.
From the first notes of Rattlesnake, the welling anticipation of the crowd erupted into a sea of bodies in turmoil, the floor pulsing in time to the unrelenting motoric rhythms of dual drummers of Eric Moore and Michael Cavanagh as a fervid clamour overtook the audience. Drinks were thrown with abandon, t-shirts whipped above heads, crowd-surfers hoisted up only to be pulled out of the throng by security as they reached the barrier – sweaty and glowing they immediately dived back into the fray. Unfortunately, this mad energetic zeal didn’t extend to the band.
In playing through the majority of their latest album, Flying Microtonal Banana, its unsurprising that the focus of the three guitarists has shifted away from theatrics, and towards their recent addition of quarter-tone instruments. This embrace of non-western musical tradition may have opened up a wealth of new, and rarely utilised, melodic options, but in delving into such unfamiliar territory, it feels like they’ve sacrificed the constantly shifting compositional elements of their previous releases; without a balance of repetition and progression (nor a commitment to either), the first half of their set grew tedious as the same motifs appeared time and time again. It felt like Gizz were holding back, and in an effort towards restraint, stripped away some of the charming eccentricity of which they’re renowned.
These complaints were quelled as they launched into the second half of their set. Here, the threads of fuzz, krautrock, prog and psych were expertly pulled together as they played through a protracted rendition of the already lengthy Altered Beast; the brakes were finally off, and King Gizzard appeared imbued with a much needed vigour – hitherto missing – with front man Stu Mackenzie lurching about the stage as though possessed. Navigated the numerous tempo and meter changes with pin-point precision is no small feat – remarkable given the number of musicians on stage – and a real testament to the incredible proficiency of the group. Unfortunately, the acoustics of the venue weren’t doing any favours – with seven members, any subtleties had a tendency to get overwhelmed in the mix: Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s trademark harmonica was all but inaudible for the majority of their set. It may have been due to poor mixing, but it often felt like three guitarists and two drummers were superfluous, bordering on gratuity for gratuities sake. With the drums and guitar sections often mirroring their respective parts, it resulted in a treacle thick sound that, while immediately gratifying, left you gasping for space after a while, possibly due to the cloying rainforest humidity of the venue, with the smell of patchouli-sweat hanging in the air.
I may have been somewhat underwhelmed, but for most, this dense, fuzzed out rapture was exactly what they sought of the evening, evident in the satisfied exhaustion of those basking in the cool night air once the gig had come to a close. Despite my grievances, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are undeniably a fantastic live group, and if you have any interest (even if you don’t!) I’d urge you to see them if given the chance.