Chicago – It’s a good thing The Grateful Dead retired because there’s a new supreme jam band in town. Impossible you say? Obviously you’ve not yet had the pleasure of seeing the tongue twisting Australian seven-piece King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard then.
A concert buddy highly recommended these psychedelic rockers to me, so when I saw they were making a stop in Chicago, I knew I had to check them out even though I had already committed to a three day music festival that weekend. Not going to lie, once Sunday night rolled around, I was hating myself for taking on an evening show after working North Coast Music Festival. I slowly walked my tired legs up the steep stairs into Subterranean and made my way up to the balcony, trying not to brush my festival bod, caked in dirt and sweat, against anyone. Despite outside temps dropping to the 70s, SubT was a sauna, packed with underage kids excited to see the band that’s been causing quite the stir for those in the know. Once King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard took the stage, it was clear what all the fuss was about. I also knew I made a great decision. My exhaustion was no match for the seductive power of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
The band started out in 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. In just five years time, they’ve self-released an extraordinary amount of music. Through their own label Flightless, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard has put out two EPs and five LPs, the most recent being Quaters!. They played a mix of material, starting the night off with “Hot Wax,” off 2014′s Oddments, followed by a song from their upcoming album, Paper Maché Dream Balloon, for which they didn’t give a title, and when asked for the set list, they simply went with “new song.” They also played “The River,” which seemed to put the crowd into a trance of sorts, “Cut Throat Boogie” from 2012′s 12 Bar Bruise, and “Head On/Pill,” off ofFloat Along – Fill Your Lungs.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard consists of Ambrose Kenny Smith on harmonica, Cook Craig on guitar, Joey Walker on guitar and bass, Eric Moore and Miachael Cavanagh on drums, and lead singer Stu Mackenzie on guitar. Oh, all those guitars and drums are killer! The guys also share tambourine and flute duties. Yes, you did just read “flute.” (Jethro Tull fans rejoice!) At times, they mix in Latin beats, jazz, and blues to their garage rock fueled psychedelia. Watching all seven of these men perform on such a tiny stage was mind-blowing. How they all fit up there, I don’t know. Blanketed in colorful projections like those of their peers Tame Impala, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard shook the room, as music pulsated from the speakers and ferociously jumped around, swaying every which way, like a human whirlpool. Girls sat between the speakers at the edge of the stage, while fans behind them moshed about. Bodies began to surf the crowd, occasionally falling to the floor, if they traveled to far back by the old-timers, who were having any of that. At one point, Stu Mackenzie also took a ride, jumping into the crowd. Luckily, no one dropped him.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard managed to bring in a jumble of folks, from baby boomers to long haired tweens and twenty-somrthing stoners donning Grateful Dead tees. Upstairs people packed in around the railing, staring down at the chaos below. During moments of calm, fans clapped and sang along, dancing here and there. Towards the back, some girls danced around in flowing skirts, like a scene out of Woodstock. In all honestly, it felt just as special as I imagine Woodstock would have, and not because this was the best performance I’ve ever seen – although, it surely was magnificent – but because watching King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard you know these guys are onto something special. Sure, there have been plenty of jam bands and there will be plenty more to come, but the energy released by these talented musicians is like nothing I’ve experienced before. They did more than just get on stage and perform, they created a moment; a moment that I will never forget.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are finishing up a U.S. tour. You can follow the band onFacebook and Twitter to stay up to date on tour news. Paper Maché Dream Balloon is set for release this November and is available for pre-order on iTunes.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.