A Potent Dose of Live Gizzard

by Jonathan Cohen

It was a long time coming (to be precise, 29 months since the originally scheduled dates, which were postponed three times due to COVID), but King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard finally made their Red Rocks debut two weeks ago as part of a three-show run featuring “marathon three-hour sets” each night, with no repeated songs. The final performance will take place Nov. 2, and will air with professionally post-mixed audio beginning Nov. 6.

Whether you’re a devoted fan of the prolific Australian sextet or a curious newcomer, the Red Rocks run offers an incredibly potent dose of live Gizzard. Indeed, the band seems to be performing at the peak of its on-stage power, even as it releases three distinct new albums in the month of October (its 21st, 22nd and 23rd since forming in 2010). Below are some highlights from the first two Red Rocks shows, as well as what fans might expect at the finale. In the meantime, be sure to check out nugs.net’s King Gizzard catalog, which includes more than a dozen audio and video releases taped all over the world.

Night one: 10/10/2022

As cloaked in mystique as Gizzard often is, the group defused any artifice between band and audience on opening night by nonchalantly walking onstage to tune and adjust its instruments 10 minutes before showtime. Frontman Stu Mackenzie was wearing a green alligator visor in a nod to the lovable Gizzard mascot, and once the concert began, there was no doubt of its significance for the musicians on stage. “I can’t feel my legs,” keyboardist Ambrose Kenny-Smith shouted. “Holy shit,” guitarist Joey Walker said. “Let’s get fucked up! Have a good time and love each other.”

After two blistering songs from 2019’s thrash-metal extravaganza “Infest the Rat’s Net,” the first set was highlighted by “Magenta Mountain” and its long, tense closing jam with Walker on analog synth, the wobbly “O.N.E.” (with a tease of the dark, heavy boogie “Straws in the Wind,” which appeared later in its complete form) and the penultimate “The River,” its snappy, retro vibe upended by teases of the more sinister “Crumbling Castle” and “Wah Wah.” The set wrapped with the nine-minute-plus “Magma” from Gizzard’s recent album “Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava,” the product of intensive jam sessions that were then edited together by Mackenzie after the fact.

As a bonus treat for the sold-out crowd of nearly 10,0000, Gizzard premiered the first of two songs on another new album, “Laminated Denim,” over the PA during intermission two days before its proper release. “Laminated Denim” was also available for early sale at the merch stand at both shows, if you were willing to brave the 45-minute line.

Set two roared to life with “Rattlesnake,” one of the best examples of Gizzard’s innate ability to work riffs and grooves into lengthy instrumental explorations (this time with teases of no less than five other songs, including the next three on the set list: “Automation,” “Honey” and “Sleep Drifter”). “Ataraxia” was much faster and precise than its studio version on 2021’s “L.W.,” its chorus hook sticking in the brain like musical toffee.

For a group that most certainly jams but has not made many overt references to scene forefathers like The Grateful Dead, Gizzard submitted to the legends of jam band past on “Evil Death Roll,” its major-key, Dead-style workout tuning directly into the spirit of this legendary venue. The head-bopping continued on the new song “Ice V,” its fizzy, New Orleans swamp funk providing an intriguing transition into three songs from the concept album “Murder of the Universe,” narrated by opening act Leah Senior, who provided the same service on the studio versions.

Walker’s girlfriend later brought out shots for the whole band in honor of Walker’s impending birthday, while Kenny-Smith prowled the stage to sing “The Grim Reaper,” what he described as “some weird ass satanic rap for ya.” The 27-song evening concluded with a final dose of thrash-y rock’n’roll in “Planet B,” which Gizzard finished exactly one minute curfew.

Night two: 10/12/2022

What better way to start the second Red Rocks show than with a 15-minute “The Dripping Tap,” one of Gizzard’s best new extended jams? During a quiet breakdown in the song, Walker was presented with a birthday cake by his girlfriend and manager, remarking, “I was expecting that later in the set!” “Gaia” featured a taut, spacey section reminiscent of Tool, with drummer Michael Cavanagh nodding to that band’s Danny Carey with his creative roto-tom work. Walker positively ripped on “Predator X,” even finger-tapping a la Eddie Van Halen and throwing in one bar of “Perihelion” (which would later open set two).

“Doom City” was futuristic surf rock crossed with Black Sabbath doom, while “K.G.L.W.” was absolutely wicked, a sea of bobbing heads offering their full compliance in the audience. The set wound down was the rarity “Sea of Trees” (played for just the 15th time since 2012), its sleazy groove segueing into the satisfying southern rock of “The Bitter Boogie.”

The party was instantly restarted during set two’s “I’m in Your Mind” / “I’m Not in Your Mind” suite, the guitar riffs of which imagined being chased through a Middle East bazaar. Leah Senior returned to narrate six songs from “Murder of the Universe,” a jaw-dropping display of Gizzard’s instrumental virtuosity and dynamic command.

From there, it was one delight after another — the baby-making soul of “Ambergris,” the slow-cooking “Iron Lung” and its emphatic, Kenny-Smith-belted outtro, “Robot Stop” and “Mr. Beat,” which teased back to “Iron Lung.” The members of Leah Senior’s band snuck onstage to spray Gizzard with silly string and bring the 32-song performance to a close, as the crowd high-fived, hugged and gazed behind it at Red Rocks’ impossibly beautiful natural surroundings.

What’s left?

Knowing that the Red Rocks shows will feature no repeat songs, we can identify some likely suspects for the third gig on Nov. 2. They include favorites such as “Venusian 2,” “Plastic Boogie,” “Self Immolate,” Am I in Heaven,” “Float Along — Fill Your Lungs,” the complete “Crumbling Castle” and “Intrasport,” plus several songs from “Murder of the Universe” that weren’t played this week, “Shanghai” (the lone song in live rotation from the 2021 album “Butterfly 3030”), newer material such as “Sadie Sorceress” and anything from the upcoming album “Changes,” which will be released a few days before Red Rocks night three. One thing’s for sure: King Gizzard always seizes big moments like this, making Nov. 2 a show certainly not to be missed.

About the author: Jonathan Cohen is a veteran music journalist, editor and author of the New York Times-bestselling authorized biography of Pearl Jam, “Pearl Jam 20.” He previously served as the music booker for the first six years of Jimmy Fallon’s NBC late night show.

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