People don't usually think of the violin while pondering the elusive spirit of rock 'n' roll. But they invariably do after hearing the Dirty Three's Warren Ellis play the instrument.
Ellis' violin playing boasts passion, lyricism, catharsis, abandon and, sometimes, drunken exuberance. He is the energy at the center of Dirty Three, a trio from Melbourne, Australia, that has been playing instrumental rock music that is at once brutal, beautiful and gut-wrenching for nigh on a decade now.
The band, which includes guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White, will return to Tucson for a gig April 22 at Solar Culture Gallery. They will perform songs from throughout their career, naturally with an emphasis on material from the latest album, She Has No Strings Apollo.
Ellis' melodies and solos encompass such disparate influences as bluegrass, the Velvet Underground, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, punk rock, jazz and Henryk Gorecki. Armed with fiddle and bow, he gives performances that are wonders to behold. Every ounce of his sexual, spiritual and creative energy seems to flow unabated through melodies that are emotional but never sentimental.
When Ellis plays, there appears to be no division between instrument, music and man. Think the legendary jazz pianist Bill Evans on avant-rock violin.
That musical vision has well served other artists in whose employ Ellis has found himself. These include Nick Cave, Ute Lemper, Robert Forster, Anita Lane and other musicians with unique voices. In addition to six full-length albums, several EPs and tour-edition CDs, the Dirty Three has collaborated on an amazing EP, In the Fishtank, with the subdued rock duo Low.
If past performances are any indication, the loquacious Ellis will not just bleed emotion all over his four strings but entertain the audience with rambling introductions that are sometimes as long as the numbers they precede.
From these soliloquies, we learn that Dirty Three's dramatic instrumentals are about such time-honored subjects as death, love, sex, drugs, alcohol, salvation, damnation and what Ellis might have had that day for lunch. That's in case you don't get the message from such titles as "Everything's Fucked," "I Remember a Time When You Used to Love Me," "Authentic Celestial Music," "I Offered It Up to the Stars and the Night Sky" and "Somewhere Else, Some Place Good."
During Ellis' chamber scream therapy, White coaxes from his drum kit all manner of marches, dirges, waltzes and funky grooves while Turner practices guitar alchemy built on delicate arpeggios, jazzy licks and explosive dissonance. Exposure to this music is not soon forgotten.
The show will include an opening set by the ever-excellent Molehill Orkestrah, a local eight-piece ensemble that plays a glorious and often danceable blend of Middle Eastern, gypsy, Eastern European and Klezmer music.