Dirty Three, Mirel Wagner
15 January 2016
Timidly introducing herself, Mirel Wagner’s folk tales led her listeners to a much more sinister place than her welcoming voice first suggested. From opener ‘The Road’, her understated presence onstage tricked those spellbound into entering her dark lyrical world.
‘The Devil’s Tongue’ and ‘No Death’ were the set highlights. As the story contained within her chilling lyrics grew, so did the intensity of her voice. The Finnish singer doesn’t need a fanfare, just the beauty of the female voice and semi-acoustic guitar. As her soft voice of foreboding echoed through the State Theatre, she fingerpicked her tales into an inescapable web, before finishing her set with the murderous intentions of ‘Goodnight’.
Dirty Three received a heroes’ welcome at they walked onstage. Warren Ellis shared the story of a “ragged set” 25 years ago, when he was told he would never play Sydney again. He himself still seems in disbelief at the level of influence the instrumental trio has had as one of Australia’s most important bands.
The stories behind the music are as captivating as the songs themselves. The description of opening song ‘One Thousand Miles’ as having “so much purple drank you find yourself engaged to Rupert Murdoch” and being about “driving until you run out of gasoline” set the playful and extravagant tone for a style of music that exists in a world of its own.
Epic shadows of the three musicians were thrown against the back of the stage as Ellis danced with his violin as if awakening dark spirits. As the set list winded through tales of hallucinogenic experiments in ‘Everything’s Fucked’ to the self-discovery of ‘Hope’, Ellis reflected on the quarter-century the band has now spent together.
The hold-your-breath moments came during ‘Sea Above, Sky Below’ (for the “days when you can’t see the good in nothing”) and the David Bowie dedicated ‘Authentic Celestial Music’. With a sound and energy that puts the power of a full orchestra to shame, there is no question Dirty Three are one of Australia’s best live acts.
They left the rest of their set to fate, and the audience called out requests simultaneously. ‘Lullabye For Christie’ accompanied another tale of misadventure as a musician on the road in the ’90s. The set closed with the ever-epic ‘Sue’s Last Ride’, and we can only hope they return soon.
Originally published thebrag.com.au