I don’t know if you’ve heard the latest news about King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard; if not, allow me to break it to you: THEY HAVE A NEW ALBUM COMING OUT FRIDAY. It’ll be their first full-length of 2023 and something like their 24th total. Quite a tally for any artist, particularly one that didn’t even start until 2012. You may or may not recall my definitive rankings of the five albums they put out in 2017: http://www.you-phoria.com/Blog/2018/January/TheBestAlbumsOf2017 (you have to scroll way down past the main list, sorry). I finally saw them play in 2018, by which point a wave of social media adulation regarding their live shows had ratcheted my expectations up much too high. That show at the Pabst (https://milwaukeerecord.com/music/pabst-theater-receives-king-gizzard-the-lizard-wizard-like-conquering-heroes-in-milwaukee-debut/) was impressive. But, like, I was already IMPRESSED.
The Lizard Wizard didn’t release a damn thing in 2018, which was great ‘cause clearly I was a little burnt out on ‘em. Unfortunately I failed to get myself unburnt in the ensuing years. Of course I checked out the metal record (2019’s INFEST THE RATS’ NEST) but when I eventually tried to get caught up last year I found it a bit hopeless. Keeping up with KGLW—keeping up with -ulp- current music—had become unfeasible. I’d accumulated too much in my brain and this was a nice sizable catalog to try and delete.
King Gizzard knows people will do this, of course. As with most bands worth their salt (…), it takes work to be a hardcore fan. However it takes no work at all to go see them live and have a blast.
Okay, maybe a LITTLE work, when it’s windy and drizzly and chilly out and the show is outdoors, like Sunday night at the Salt Shed. Opening band Kamikaze Palm Tree suffered the most and with the wind whipping weren’t especially audible yet didn’t seem miserable and the crowd received them warmly. (They were even better on Monday when they could dress how they liked and generally relax. I got B-52’s/Nico/Devo/Cate Le Bon/Dry Cleaning vibes and look forward to checking out more of their music.) Gizz came out looking like rejects from an abandoned ANIMAL HOUSE prequel, not quite the math nerds their albums would have you believe. The message was ‘it may be miserable out here (just like it had been in Denver last week) but dammit we are going to enjoy ourselves’.
“This weather’s fuckin’ gnarly”, said one member of the band (apologies: I’m still a long ways off recognizing these guys as characters or voices and they all play multiple instruments), prior to a dedication to “Johnny Mayer” aka the guy who plays guitar and sings in Dead & Company aka the band that just played two sold-out shows at Wrigley Field over the weekend on its supposed final tour. In Mayer’s honor, The LW went metal, lacing “Gaia” with “Motor Spirit” (a new occult-industrial thing) and “The Great Chain Of Being” (off the 2017 hodgepodge album GUMBOOT SOUP). Yep I’d forgotten about that one, what a great fucking song, one of the few I recognized. Although there’s plenty to be read into KGLW lyrics, at heart they’re still a party band, basically the Platinum Boys of prog, which perhaps prog sorely needed.
The other new one they played was called “Witchcraft” and it was easy to dance to ‘cause I’ve seen Secret Chiefs 3 a bunch of times. I became pretty excited for the new album at this point. After this they did a song called “Satan Speeds Up” which naturally would feature copious flute (courtesy of Stu Mackenzie, the member listed first on the band’s Wikipedia page); being a huge Moody Blues fan I was way into this and thrilled that the fluting carried on into “Trapdoor” too. Still there was something coming that I really had no idea was a possibility, in the form of “The River”, a ten-minute song that they pushed to nearly 25 and I would swear there was a distinct “Fire On The Mountain” jam inside it. I’m not enough of a scholar of this band to know whether this was a historic thing but I’d sure never heard anything like it from ‘em before.
I’m not saying there was always a smooth, intuitive flow of ideas. KGLW is not a jamband YET, despite many and increasing trappings thereof—interlacing and sandwiching of songs, pre-arranged song cycles, genre eclecticism, etc. The destinations of their jams are all predetermined, transitions sometimes lack finesse, climaxes take predictable routes. The group has no improvisational identity of its own. Still, the very willingness to let the music potentially suck for a minute while they figure out where it’s going next, how they relate as an ensemble in these settings, is a major leap forward from the band I saw in 2018. “Trust in the river I have floated down”, as the lyric goes. These guys have seen what a ton of other bands can do and are currently intent on showing everyone that they can do all of those things. Hell, they even did a quasi-off-the-cuff oldies medley during the “Boogieman Sam” closer like they think they’re FOCKING Zeppelin. However, unlike any jamband I can think of, they’re doing all of this without playing ANY covers. Add to this the fact that they’re only popping over to this country from Australia when they can, and you start to see what a remarkable thing it is for them to be infiltrating this scene and still building hype. You might even start to question whether any of these American jambands…are any good after all.
List of artists I’ve ever seen on consecutive nights of a tour (not counting festivals): Phish, Trey, U2, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Oysterhead, Umphrey’s McGee, Keller Williams, STS9, Secret Chiefs 3, Wilco, Death Blues, Weird Al…and now, King Gizzard. Monday night was infinitely more pleasant on the weather front and truth be told, the music front too. Not better, just less noisy, less experimental, more consistently danceable. I can appreciate a band doing three-night stands in select cities, boasting no repeats within residencies, still opening shows with its breakthrough hit on occasion (“Rattlesnake”). This one they stretched out to nearly 15 minutes, basically mashing it up with “Honey” for a bit and then actually playing “Honey”. I’d felt this energy before: a band coming off a triumphant night, full of swagger and eager to show that it was no fluke.
Then there was “Shanghai”, in case anyone had thought they were getting too serious. I flashed right back to my brief mid-‘90s raver phase during this. Gizz is good at that, all KINDS of nostalgic tugs, surely what initially reeled me in. There are also songs and aspects of songs that shamelessly bite other bands; blatant Toolisms in “Evil Death Roll” and “Inner Cell”, for instance, and lots of Phishisms on Monday night, particularly the song “Ice V” which is such a blatant ripoff of Phish’s “It’s Ice” that it’s got to be a known fact, right? I could go on and on and on.
The point is to make you lose track, though. The point is that you CAN’T keep up. We nerds spend so much time keeping useless facts at the front of our focus and where actually IS it getting us. You spend enough time with the Gizzard Lizard and you can lose all sense of genre, harmonic interval, time itself. Don’t even TRY to remember. Walk away like a shell-shocked Swiftie.
I loved that they still threw some metal into the groovefest, the way “Road Train” rose up out of the end of “Wah Wah”, and later they tore it up with a raging new track called “Supercell” and then “Self-Immolate” from RATS’ NEST before closing the show with the more overtly uplifting “Am I In Heaven?” I felt rather stunned at how radically different these two shows had been, how much variety this band had showcased and how well it had all been done. I felt my mind stretching its tendrils out, seeking trivia and lore, wanting that deeper grasp and to be able to describe the intricacies, knowing that this band is worthy of it.
If the internet survives, right? If our brains don’t all reach capacity before the words can be assembled. If we don’t all give up on the whole endeavor. If this band can stay together. If they even WANT to be one of THOSE bands. Personally I’d see it as a grave missed opportunity if King G doesn’t some day crank its noise onto the cliffs of Alpine Valley. Even if by then all they do is play the hits! A little summery weather and KGLW, you could not beat it. Right now the band is still expanding; eventually it will have to take its myriad puzzle pieces and try to make something coherent, one would think. But I thought the same thing about Animal Collective circa 2008 so don’t listen to me on where this band is headed. All I know is after missing night three and a couple days’ distance I’m already itching to see this band again.