The Dirty Three
Warp, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan • June 28, 2006
After two lackluster and sleep-inducing Japanese bands, The Dirty Three came on the stage and destroyed Shibuya.
The show was oversold and the basement floor venue was so packed you could barely move your arms. After the last opening band finished their set, the screen came down (as it does in Japan between every band so you don’t see the stage being set up or broken down), and the club exhaled as people went outside for a drink, a smoke, or a breath of hot summer air.
After about fifteen minutes of waiting and squirming to the front of the stage, the lights dimmed, the screen came up, and The Dirty Three were on stage. Tokyo summers are hot and Warren Ellis’s long hair and beard were already covered in sweat. He stood up to the mic and said, “I can’t speak Japanese,” then asked if there was someone in the audience who was willing to translate. A tiny, blonde Australian woman named Helen volunteered for the job and she became Ellis’s interpreter for the night, and she did an amazing job. Before every song, he would ramble on whimsically, romantically about the meaning behind each one, whether the stories were true or not didn’t matter:
“This song is about being totally fucking broke, finding a credit card and renting the most expensive car…”
“This song is about coming to the club tonight, realizing that you hate the person you are with and leaving with someone else. So right now, look at the person next to the person you came with and tell them you love them.”
“This song was recorded in a warehouse that reeked of vomit and urine.”
Helen said, “I can’t translate that,” to which he replied, “That’s okay, I wouldn’t ask my wife to say those things, I don’t expect you to.”
And the songs! Oh the songs! In a packed house of people, mostly Australian and Japanese, who had been lulled into a corpse-like state from the opening bands, Warren Ellis (violin), Mick Turner (guitar) and Jim White (drums) woke the dead! Ellis’s violin blasted through the club and cleared the air of everything until is was nothing but a vacuum of heart-wrenching and hysteric sound. Each song was more intense than the one before it. And they kept pushing, cranking the energy up ten notches at a time. Ellis destroying his bow, snapping strings, and writhing on the floor, made for one of the best live shows ever.
“I know the club is packed, but if you want to dance, go on and fucking dance!!” screamed Ellis (Helen translated). This wasn’t really permission to dance, but a command. He then pulled about ten timid and unsuspecting Japanese fans from the front row onto the stage. He played. They danced. We all danced. It was impossible not to.