It’s early July and Edinburgh is preparing itself for festival season. During this time the city can appear a little bit quiet. Summerhall on the other hand is starting early and making sure that the city attracts exciting and original acts to the former vet school to perform at the Nothing Ever Happens Here series of gigs. The Dirty Three formed in the early nineties in Melbourne, Australia, and have released a string of critically acclaimed albums. They are making a rare appearance in Edinburgh and the audience are anticipating something special tonight.
Local act Eagleowl are the support this evening. Their brand of slow and whispered songs bear a haunting resemblance to tonight’s headliners. This influence is acknowledged onstage as the four piece entertain the packed room. It’s been several years since debut LP This Silent Year was released on Fence Records (and subsequently re-released on Lost Map). The band play tracks from this album as well as new songs that sound fresh and brilliantly ambitious. Hopefully, another long player will be released soon with more live shows in Edinburgh in the near future.
The Dirty Three consist of Warren Ellis (violin), Mick Turner (guitar) and Jim White (drums). Over the years the band members have found success in different collaborations and musical projects, so it feels incredibly special to see them on stage together once again. Despite not having a vocalist, Warren Ellis is very much the frontman and likes to chat in-between the songs. In fact he opens up the show, not with a musical number, but a long anecdote about his times in Edinburgh as a busker. When the music does start, it is epic and grand in scale. As a three piece the band makes a bombastic and impressive noise. The instrumental sounds are hard to categorise into a genre; instead they seem to live in their own time and space, creating a sound that exists on its own terms.
The set list is made up of tracks from the band’s back catalogue. The compositions are epic in scale. The only downside is that the length of the songs limits the amount it is possible to fit into a 90 minute set. Thankfully, the band ignore the curfew and play a vast and grandiose set well into the night. The emotion from the gut wrenching violin, along with the distorted guitars and rhythmic drums, is dense, powerful and astonishing. The Dirty Three have more ideas in one song than most bands can muster in an entire career and they seem to enjoy themselves while they stir up the intensity. All this is done without the aid of a vocalist and the absence of words is barely noticed. The set does feel a bit too short, but it does leave a lasting impression.
Summerhall has a full programme of live music lined up over the festival season. The Dirty Three play an inspirational and intense set that will be hard to top as the Nothing Ever Happens Here series of gig continues throughout the year.