Guest review by Patrick Daul.
Since tickets for this show first went on sale in late 2019, much has happened in the world of King Gizzard in the Lizard Wizard, and not just touring postponements. During the pandemic era alone, this Melbourne sextet has released seven studio albums, with another one coming later this month. To call this band “prolific” would be an understatement bordering on counterfactual. They have released 23 albums in a decade, a figure that doesn’t factor in the numerous live albums, side projects, compilations, and expansive bootlegging apparatus that makes up what fans lovingly refer to as “The Gizzverse.”
The number of different genres and modes that King Gizzard in the Lizard Wizard has undertaken is as staggering as their album count. From the beginning, they expanded on their initial sunny garage rock sound to explore psychedelic rock, high-concept prog rock odysseys, thrash metal, kaleidoscopic synth-pop, lo-fi jazz, throwback funk, and a dozen other half-baked sonic experiments. Each new project takes on a new concept, sound, or genre. With each record, their audience grows, and their live show evolves. With so much material to draw from, every concert is an auditory smorgasbord that draws fans from every corner of rock music.
Perhaps the crowning achievement of King Gizzard is how they have reintroduced the concept of “fun” back into an at-times overly self-serious indie-rock landscape. While their musical chops are unassailable, and much of their lyrical content revolves around the current and imminent horrors of climate change, Stu McKenzie and his cohort of frizzy-haired prodigies bring a welcome levity to their live shows. Chicago rock fans have been pining for this brand of fun for a few years now.
Because of the band’s explosion in popularity during the pandemic, Saturday was likely the first time that many in the crowd had ever witnessed the spectacle of King Gizzard in the Lizard Wizard live. For similar reasons, this was also an introduction to one of Chicago’s newest venues, Radius. The open layout and easy sightlines made for a comfortable viewing experience. Having been repurposed from an old steel factory, Radius’s warehouse-esque scenery and inventive lighting made for a grittier experience than most brand-new venues provide. The crowd filled the room quickly, with a huge crowd for opener and King Gizzard collaborator Leah Senior. Her short set of shimmering pop-rock set a nice mood for a buzzy crowd.
After a few false starts and teases, the six-piece finally took the stage to an uproar from the crowd. Like most shows on their current tour, the band took the stage and launched into a number of their metal-forward tracks off of 2019’s Infest The Rat’s Nest. While “Venusian 1” and “Venusian 2” aren’t their most popular thrash metal songs, but the hyper-fast face-melting solos and ferocious pace still got the crowd going, with a mosh pit forming from almost the first note.
One of the band’s greatest strengths is their versatility, which was on full display in the next few songs. “Slow Jam 1” featured an extended groove that morphed and meandered, even teasing the crowd with intros and excerpts from other songs. This really showcased King Gizzard in the Lizard Wizard’s looseness and improvisational skills. The next song they played is one of the most perplexing in an already perplexing discography. “The Grim Reaper” features not only rapping from keyboardist Ambrose Kenny-Smith but also flute solos from frontman Stu McKenzie. Casual fans were equally confused and entertained, die-hards were delighted.
One of the set’s highlights had to be the live debut of “Lava” off one of their three albums released this month. This slow builder culminated in a massive wall of sound, that drew from everything from heady free jazz to hypnotic chanting. The set had plenty of twists and turns, with a few funk-indebted cuts, and another pair of metal-leaning songs, including the sludgy and labyrinthine “Lord of Lightning” featuring an eerie spoken-word performance from opener Leah Senior. The crowd was in full rapture at this point, as the song’s thunderous climax matched the epic D&D-inspired lyrics and imagery.
The show closed with the exceptional “Float Along – Fill Your Lungs.” Saturday’s rendition stretched the euphoric throwback psychedelia well past the ten-minute mark. The band slid back and forth between slow and fast, and a few blissful guitar solos kept the crowd engaged. It was a triumphant moment, and it was a fitting way to celebrate the show finally happening, even if it was almost three years late…
With vivid visuals and radiant lighting accenting their live show, it’s clear that King Gizzard has leveled up their presentation on stage. They are legitimate festival headliners now, and it’s not out of the question that the band’s next stop in Chicago will either be at a larger venue with multiple nights of sold-out shows, or perhaps a prime booking with Riot Fest, Lollapalooza, or Pitchfork.
At present, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are at the most exciting and elusive moment a band can achieve. It’s evident that their musical peak is most certainly not behind them. Even better, it seems the best is yet to come.