The world is pretty upside-down right now, and it only seems fitting that an Australian Invasion is upon us. While bands like Tame Impala and Pond may have primed our hemisphere’s tastebuds for precise, droney psychedelic rock from the land down under, the main course has arrived, and it has a really weird name.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard ripped The Fillmore into teeny, tiny bits on Wednesday, April 12. Touring behind their February album, Flying Microtonal Banana, the Melbourne seven-piece went deep in the their exploration of microtonal music, which, for those not in the know, refers to any music that strays from the 12 interval-per-octave scale that dominates most Western compositions.
In order to play this kind of music, frontman Stu Mackenzie had a tiny yellow guitar (which he named “The Flying Microtonal Banana”) custom-built with a microtonal fretboard, and everyone else – including both drummers – tuned their instruments around it. The banana was out in full-force for the first two-thirds of the show as the band meandered through most of their new album.
They opened with “Open Water,” a fast-paced ripper with doomy lyrics that set the tone for the rest of the show. A few songs in, Mackenzie channeled his inner Ozzy Osbourne with “Anoxia,” and that’s when I started to grasp the whole microtonality thing. What they were playing went far beyond the tiny banana guitar and the instruments cooperating with it, creating a new sort of genre-bending sound. It was like listening to psychedelic metal composed in a scale usually reserved for obscure Indian instruments. It was awesome.
One of the best songs they played was “Nuclear Fusion,” an aptly-named powerhouse of a track with beautifully straightforward drumming, deep, humming bass tones, and whimsical lyrics dancing on top of it. The levity of this song was followed with an evil counterpunch as they went into “Rattlesnake,” the lead single off Flying Microtonal Banana. As the background visuals soared through an animated landscape that looked like a cross between “Second Life” on angel dust and the ‘90s PC game “Myst,” the crowd was all-in and willing to travel wherever these tripped-out Aussies wanted to go next.
After “Rattlesnake,” Mackenzie switched out the banana for a regular guitar, and I was sad to see it go. However, I was delighted to hear them rev up “Altered Beast,” an unreleased track off their forthcoming record, Murder of the Universe, which comes out in June (back in November, they announced their intention to release a total of five albums this year, by the way).
The shift back to a traditional scale was remarkable, as I felt my ears bend toward the more familiar tones I’m used to hearing. “Altered Beast” was out of control, and while the band was no longer playing tiny slivers of notes between notes, they were slamming us with heavy, punk-adjacent psychedelic jams. They also played “Vomit Coffin” from Murder of the Universe, moving even deeper into the dark places they’re exploring with that record.
With the banana long gone, King Gizzard performed a smattering of other songs, including “The River” from their acid-fusion album Quarters!, as well as “Gamma Knife” from the amphetamine-laced mindfuck that is Nonagon Infinity. The show ended at a fever-pitch and they didn’t play an encore because they didn’t have to. It was easily the best show I’ve been to all year.
With an alleged four albums being released within the next eight months, this is certainly not the last we’ll hear from King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard in 2017, which is good news for everyone. I, for one, welcome my new Australian overlords.
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