Dirty Three, Barbican, London

On its release in 1998, Ocean Songs seemed to capitalise on a then-rising wave of so-called "post-rock" bands (Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor), crystallising the Three's reputation as purveyors of magnificently dolorous, sprawling song-sketches. It makes more sense, though, to see the Dirty Three as pioneers in their own world, given that the album built on and departed from a template set by their three previous works. Where these rested on vigorous punk-rustic dynamics of tension and impulsive release, Ocean Songs sustained a similar pace throughout, plunging into a mood of melancholia and capturing vivid feelings of being adrift in empathic strokes of the violin.

What astonishes about the album, though, is the amount of shapes and shades that Ellis and his bandmates, the guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White (augmented tonight by Nick Cave on gently ululating piano), find within its sighing spaces.

What are the songs about? Tough to say, but they operate in the gap between Ellis's expressive playing and Turner and White's spare-to-crashing backdrops, poised between abstracts and specifics. Ellis's witty introductions give pointers: "Backwards Voyager" is presented as a song about how it feels "when even the old lady down the shop" tells you what to go and do with yourself; later, "Deep Waters" is about how it feels when your loved one moves to a different country and you have to follow them.

The lingering impressions are of vast distance and space, bold departures and sad farewells.

Comments