Tender Carnage : The Dirty Three Slay Us All In Hobart

The Dirty Three Play Hobart's Odeon

The Dirty Three were due to take to the Hobart Odeon’s 108-year-old stage at 9 pm, but they were obviously so excited they bound into view a few minutes early!

Jim White (drums), Mick Turner (guitar) and Warren Ellis (violin, keyboard) are near the end of their first national tour in 12 years, with only Brisbane and Byron Bay remaining.

If you’ve read other reviews from this time, you already know their legendary live reputation remains not just intact, but enhanced.

Within 30 secs of the Hobart show beginning, Warren Ellis has snatched the long lens Nikon off the only photographer in the pit and squatted to take a shot of him.

Later, Ellis takes the camera again, but in fairness, this time, exchanges it for his violin, which the photographer is encouraged to play.

I came to see them in Hobart because of missing out on tickets to the dates in Melbourne.

I’m so glad I did. At the Odeon there’s ample room on the front barricade, stage left.

Next to me is a young woman who, like me, found The Dirty Three through their album Ocean Songs.

She’d taken mushrooms on that fateful day, she explains, and ever since, that album helps calm her insomniac ways.

“Adult lullabies” she calls those songs.

Tonight, there’s no room for slumber.

Pound for pound the most visceral, affecting performance I’ve ever experienced.

Funny, savage, tender, exultant.

At one point, Ellis spends so long rolling around the floor he breaks the belt holding his trousers up.

So he borrows one from a bloke in the front row.

They play for 3 hours. Not a minute too long.

A mix of old and new, and amazing passages they discover in the moment. This reviewer cries.

In-between songs Warren wanders to the edge of stage to talk with all of us, and tell black tales of wanting to murder Billy Joel.

We all laugh and nod our approval.

Ellis remains the consummate front man.

He lurches and prowls, convulsing with the music, before towering above us on a pelican case, back turned, sawing horsehairs off his devil’s bow.

But don’t look away because a moment later he’s on the ground giving his aging vertebrae relief on the stage floor.

At one point Warren dedicates a tune from Ocean Songs to the late Steve Albini who produced that album, and apparently saved the recording sessions from falling in a self defeating heap.

I think it was Authentic Celestial Music. I cry again.

When Jim White isn’t enjoying watching his own left stick descend onto the snare, he’s eyeing Ellis and Turner like a hawk as he skitters his beats across the skins and percussion.

You can tell he’s having a blast. The side of his mouth twitches, his eyebrows jump with delight.

He never takes off his rumpled linen suit jacket.

Apparently he’s been known to go hiking in it, whilst wearing dress shoes.

Mick Turner mostly plays a guitar I covet – a Fender Tele Thinline with Bigsby tremolo.

He reminds me of Stephen Merchant.

At the end of the gig the stage is littered with sweat, spit, horsehair and Ellis hair.

Three old friends hug. It’s been a fierce, joyous communion. We’re all in that hug.

Before they leave the stage for the final time Warren Ellis gives the belt back to the bloke in the front row.

As he leaves, he holds his pants up with one hand and waves goodbye with the other.

All images: Michael Mackenzie