Concert Review: King Gizzard at the Salt Shed – Chicago

A three-night psyche-rock extravaganza on the Chicago riverside venue.

After finishing a monstrous North America tour last fall, King Gizzard announced a new, conceptual tour, dubbed The Residency Tour, in which they would play several days in single locations without repeating songs between sets.  Shows were set for The Caverns in Tennessee, Red Rocks in Colorado, The Salt Shed in Chicago, and Carnation Farms near Seattle, with a capstone marathon show at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.  Tickets for all but the bowl sold out instantly.  Fans quickly arranged meetup events.  Artists got to work making commemorative shirts, posters, stickers, and other bootlegged goodies. All the while, the band has gotten jammier than ever.  Extended versions of songs are now commonplace at their concerts, and setlists are chock full of ‘>’s indicating linked songs.  Attendees and internet onlookers alike speculate about what will be on each setlist.  To compare them to the Grateful Dead feels trite and cliche at this point, yet the comparison still rings clear in my mind, even as someone who did not follow the Dead in their heyday.

Night 1 – Sunday June 11, 2023

A rainy June in Chicago would normally turn most folks away from outdoor activities, but the crowd was thick and swarming at the Salt Shed tonight for the first of three shows by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.  The show from last October had left audiences hungry for more, and the promise of three unique shows over three days enticed fans to travel from all over the country to come see these shows (with some fans traveling to multiple destinations of the tour). The band step up to the stage, microtonal instruments in hand, promising a good set from the start.  Undeterred by the weather, the band tunes up.  “Let’s have some rock.” declares Joey, and the bassline of Pleura pulls the audience into a hypnotic trance to begin the three day ceremony. Rocking versions of “Pleura and O.N.E.” kick off the set, before the band bring a fan onstage to perform the ceremonial “Nuuuuuuuuuuuuuuclear Fuuuuuuuuuusionnnnnnnnnnnn”. “Nuclear Fusion” exits smoothly into “Minimum Brain Size” to round out a very solid Microtonal Set. As the band swap out microtonal guitars for heavy metal guitars, Joey asks the audience, “Was anyone at Dead and Company last night?”.  Ambrose follows up by asking “and was anyone else trapped in their own mind?”  Sounds like someone had too much too fast the previous night, although the chilly winds were doing no favors either.  Joey then dedicates the next song to John Mayer. Stu opens up the metal set with “Gaia,” the thrashy rager from last year’s Omnium Gatherum, and the drum solo section dives straight into the Tool-y jam known as “Motor Spirit” from their forthcoming metal album, PetroDragonic Apocalypse.  Blending jams into their heavy metal sets was the driving force behind this new album, and the experiment is likely to convert jam fans into metal fans and vice versa. As “Motor Spirit” slows down towards the end, a slow, sludgy chord draws the audience in for a rare performance of “The Great Chain of Being,” a song often left out of metal sets.  Great Chain then gives way to another new track from Petro Dragon, titled “Witchcraft”.  A dangerous brew of Polymeters and shredding guitars has instantly cemented this tune as a personal favorite from the upcoming album. Heavy metal guitars are set aside and Stu reaches for the flute, always a treat at a Gizzard show.  The band then opens up with the woozy riffs to “Satan Speeds Up” from their 2014 album I’m In Your Mind Fuzz.  The song had not seen live play for 9 years until last week at Red Rocks.  “Satan Speeds Up” is followed by a jaunty performance of “Trapdoor” that quickly turns into a frenzied jazz freakout. After “Trapdoor,” the band settles into the first real calm of the night, as quiet jazz guitars seek out melodies and riffs over a 5/4 shuffle cadence.  Longtime fans know what’s coming, or at least know where they’re starting.  “The River” is an evergreen fan favorite tune, and over the years has evolved into a sprawling jazz odyssey.  After two verses, Stu sounds off a time change, and the band jumps instantly from calm and collected to frenzied and then evil jazz.  This “Evil River” has been a thing of fascination at recent concerts, but tonight was destined for an even wilder foray down the cosmic river.  After several  minutes of fast jamming, the band lets off the gas and drops us into open waters.  Cav’s drumming turns to exploratory percussion, the three guitars wander the middle and upper registers, seeking strange melodies, and Ambrose picks up the saxophone to fill out the spaces in between.  The band’s recent trip to Dead and Co has lead them to turn the middle of the River into a bona fide “Drums and Space”.  Then, slowly, a little riff forms and pulls the rest of the band into a dancy cadence that, to my ears, sounds an awful lot like the jam between “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain.”  The jam eventually breaks up and the band returns to space for a few more minutes before capping off the rest of the song in a relatively traditional way. How the band would cap out the performance after this crazy jam was a mystery, but then they launch into “Evil Death Roll,” their jammiest number from 2016’s Nonagon Infinity.  A high energy jam carries for several minutes before arriving at the trancy breakdown as the band invokes the power of the nonagon to fully open the door that had been peaked through during “The River.”  After a return to the chaotic verse of the song, the band then transitions into “Magma,” yet another jammy number from 2022’s Ice Death… album.  It’s jams all the way down.  Stu incorporates some of his heavy metal throat singing into this song, adding an extra layer of danger to this already tense jam.  The jazzy beat underpinning “Magma” eventually boils over to become a powerful eruption of screaming guitars and furious drumming. A brief pause and the band give a shoutout to their talented sound engineer Sam Joseph aka “Turn it up, Sammy!” before playing his namesake “Boogieman Sam” from 2019’s Fishing for Fishies.  The whole crowd is dancing and swaying to this groovy number, while Ambrose alternates between harmonica solos and short quotes from several blues numbers, including “Got My Mojo Workin,” “Goin’ up the Country,” “My Babe,” and “Sweet Home Chicago,” while the guitars interjected lines from both “Head On/Pill” and “The Dripping Tap.” Throughout the extended jam, the band changed up tempos several times, allowing the song to move and grow naturally instead of confining it to a single beat throughout.  King Gizzard’s jams have taken on a whole new life tonight, and it is a privilege to witness this growth firsthand.  The whole of night 1 was magical and set the tone for the entire run of shows.

Night 2 – Monday June 12, 2023

The evolution of jammy Gizzard continues with this grooviest of sets.  The boys waste no time and dive right into the jams with a fiery “Rattlesnake”, suffused with touches of “Honey” and “Sleepdrifter”.  The last “rattle’s me” cuts off the rest of the band as Stu continues riffing and the band jumps right back in with Honey proper, and more “Sleepdrifter” teases. After only two songs, the banana is shelved and the crew rolls out the synth cart for a rousing rendition of “Shanghai”.  Ambrose’s falsetto verses ring through over the synth loops before the band takes off into a lengthy jam over the main riff.  If this is any indication of the sounds of the second 2023 album, I am very excited to hear more.  Shanghai is followed up by “Hate Dancin'” and “Astroturf.”  “Hate Dancin'” still perhaps needs a bit of drilling but “Astroturf” was spot on, every note landed, and Lukey and Cavs held down the last half of the song with frightening precision. After the Changes set, it’s Cookie’s Turn.  Continuing on the funky groovy theme of the night, Cookie Dawg calls out “Down The Sink,” my personal favorite song off Gumboot Soup, and a welcome return to live rotation.  Cookie’s playing and vocals on this track are on point, and towards the tail end of the song, the funk gets even funkier.  The band gets hectic and louder and ever so chaotic, before dropping without warning back into one last chorus. A long, dramatic pause in the music, as the boys have a brief chat about what is coming next.  Speculation and gossip in the audience grows as listeners wonder what the band is about to drop on us.  “Lucas just asked me what key this is in, that’s how prepared we are for this.  Ah, fuck it, Invisible Face.”  Massive cheers erupt from the audience as the band plays a song not heard since 2018, and like the rest of the set before it, it is most funky.  The breakdown wove in and out, quiet and loud, as a mesmerizing nonagon played across the video board.  Eventually Stu brought it back to the head for the transition into “Wah Wah,” although they could scarcely get past the second verse before dipping into the “River” jam from the previous night.  A few more minutes of swimming in the river before we got back to “Wah Wah” and Cav’s double kick powered the band straight into “Road Train,” releasing all the tension built up from the previous two songs.
In case you thought we were done with the funk, you were wrong.  A long, drawn-out riffy jam eventually grew into “Ice V,” replete with Stu and Joey guitar solos and sexy saxy Ambrose trills.  The post-chorus jam took a turn for the heavy, as the band came back in for the “Queen of Ice” verse.  Instead of the usual G Dorian riff, the band appears to be playing over a sort of Andalusian Cadence (I, bVII, bVI, V).  Is this a new version of the song, or a hint at something to come later?  Only time will tell. A brief break in the music as the band breaks out the heavy metal instruments.  Excitement in the audience swells as we are finally getting more metal.  And they pull the rug out from under us with a spot-on rendition of the Inner Cell suite.  Up next is “Supercell” from PetroDragonic Apocolypse, a fully formed storm of thrashy goodness.  After that, we get a drawn-out intro for “Self Imolate,” but before they can launch into the song proper, the boys sit down and Cavs and Lukey open up a drums and bass jam.  The other members slowly join in, creating a heavy metal soundscape.  Pulsing tribal rhythms lead listeners on a fiery run across the surface of Venus for several minutes, building up the energy until eventually returning to the main song and unleashing that energy back into the crowd.  They’re getting good at this. One last song to close out the night.  A gentle riff starts, then builds, culminating in a lovely, albeit shorter, “Am I In Heaven?”  The length does not mean the song was a letdown at all.  We had gotten plenty of jams that night, and one last banger to round out the set was just what the doctor ordered.  The whole audience screaming the chorus over top of the four-on-the-floor drums brought the whole Wierdo Swarm together for one last dance in the rain. With two incredible and unique shows already finished, the swarm is left wondering what is still in store on night 3.

Night 3 – Tuesday June 13, 2023

The hazy misty rainy weather of the last three days culminated in a steady downpour that hung over the city all afternoon.  The high winds of Sunday were gone, and so the sound system was still hung high and the full video board was up, but the stage and fairgrounds were altogether soaked.  Kamikaze Palm Tree played a full set under a particularly bad batch of rain.  Hats off to them for their perseverance, even if the music was unsettling at times. As Gizzard takes the stage, the rains have slowed but not at all stopped.  The show must go on, and the boys, undeterred, have stepped up to finish their three night run with a bang.  Heavy Metal guitars in hand, tonight is starting off with a bang.  Joey steps up to the mic and says he’s wearing only a vest in solidarity with the drenched crowd.  The band launches straight into “Gila Monster,” setting the pace for what would be a high energy show.  The rain does not deter the crowd; in fact, it only adds to the intensity of the show.  Rain pouring down as thousands of fans headbang along to lead single from their forthcoming album. After Gila, we are treated to yet another Petro Dragon song, this time it’s “Converge.”  The blistering drums and savage vocals from both Stu and Ambrose combine with the rain to propel this song into an absolute rager.  Following Converge, we get two tracks off Rat’s Nest: “Planet B” and “Mars for the Rich.”  Stu notes the poetic nature of playing a song about drying climate in the middle of a storm.  It would seem we are in for a weather-themed setlist. Heavy Metal guitars still in hand, Joey walks up to the Mic and declares “This next song is ironic because everything on stage is covered in plastic.”  The boys bust out “Plastic Boogie” in what would otherwise be a heavy metal set, and yet every supercharged and rain-soaked dancer switches seamlessly from headbanging and moshing to boogieing without missing a beat.  The song carries through the heavy metal intensity of the previous songs into the next phase of the evening, bridging the gaps between King Gizzard’s ever-sprawling discography. After Plastic Boogie, Stu and Joey spend a minute debating what to do next.  They have eyes on the Synth cart that sits beneath a pile of protective plastic sheeting, but they remain unsure.  “I don’t want it to break.” one of them comments.  “Who wants to hear Hot Water?” asks Stu, as he turns to grab his flute.  The synth cart is pushed further back along the stage, to protect it from the rain. After this brief pause, “Hot Water” got everyone moving again.  Fans who sat out the headbanging of the Metal Set were now moving and grooving to the kraut rock beat.  As the song wound down, the band started into another one of their new spacy jams, heavily inspired by their trip to Dead and Co.  Stu’s wandering flute floats atop spacy jazzy guitars from Cookie and Joey, while Ambrose punches through with the occasional vocal line, and Cavs and Lucas fill out the soundscape with free-flowing rhythms.  Amidst the chaos, Stu switches his flute out for his Blue Yamaha and corrals the band back together for “Hypertension.”  Each verse is followed by a wild, face-melting jam from Stu, each more intense than the last.  We all caught that hypertension tonight. After “Hypertension,” the crowd gets a moment to catch their breath before Joey takes the Mic with “This Thing.”  With the weather having cleared up enough, the synth cart is opened up and Stu backs up Joey with keyboards, followed by another ripper of a harmonica solo from Ambrose.  Cookie then sets down his guitar and pulls up to the keys, and after a bit of synth noodling, the band settles into the opening lines of the mesmerizing “Magenta Mountain” that culminates in a heavy, evil jam backed with swirling synths. There is another, brief pause.  Stu looks around at the other members and asks if they’re ready for this.  No one knows exactly what’s coming next.  “Okay we don’t know what we’re doing but we’re doing it,” declares Stu.  Cavs starts up a steady beat on the hi-hat as the rest of the band finds their nerves.  Slowly, the audience recognizes what this means.  Stu counts in and lands the opening notes of “Change,” instantly cementing tonight as a historic event.  The debut of “Change” has been long-awaited since the album was released, and tonight we finally got it. It was still not yet perfect, but each section of the song was heavenly and every member got to shine.  Lucas’s bass solos punched through the layered synths with confidence.  Stu danced across the piano for the first verses.  Cookie bounced through his verses before handing the mic off to Ambrose, who needed an extra repeat of the slow section to gather his lyrics.  But, when the time came, he nailed every syllable with impeccable flow.  A brief change over to more synth loops as the band set up for Joey’s verse, and it almost sounded as though they were going to jump into “Gondii” (admittedly, that song does derive from this section of “Change”).  Eventually, they returned to the verse proper and brought everything back for Stu’s last verse on the piano and scat jam.  After that, he quickly stepped back from the piano to grab his guitar and got it on just in time to shred one last solo before the ending notes.  “That shit’s hard.  Thanks for coming to our TED talk.” One last song.  “The Dripping Tap, isn’t it?”  Asks Ambrose, before being rebuffed by Stu.  “Naw, it’s Cookie’s turn.”  “Anybody like Goblins?”  After a brief chat about hardware stores and Cookiedawg’s dog, they launch into the bright and poppy “Garden Goblin” to cap off the show.  “Isn’t this the place for you?”  sings Cookie, with the band answering, “CHICAGO” with a shrill, bluesy howl.  A pleasant, albeit anticlimactic way to end the set. Just kidding, there’s still one more song, and the band queues in Ambrose to belt the opening chorus to “The Dripping Tap,” a song they had been teasing all weekend throughout their jams.  The rain starts up again in earnest as the guitars build to a fever pitch of shredding and squealing.  Stu summons the band into the first Verse, followed by the band and the crowd singing “Who left the tap on?” in unison.  Another solo, and another Ambrose chorus, and the band cuts off.  However, instead of coming back in with the opening riff for the second half, Stu leads the band into one last spacey jam. Slowing down the tempo, Joey plays contemplative, melodic lines atop jazzy percussion and dancing, spinning rhythms from the rest of the band.  This was the most Jerry Garcia-inspired moment of the entire weekend, and what felt like the logical conclusion of the band’s latest explorations into improvisational music.  After a few minutes of building this heady jam, the boys drop back into the main song and lead the crowd in a lively sing-along.  One more verse and solo, and Ambrose closes out the three-night run with one last belting chorus.  A glorious end to a monumental three nights of music.
It’s the end of the show, of the whole weekend.  However, this didn’t feel like just one stop on a tour, but a whole mini-tour in its own right.  The magic of the residencies is that each venue got its chance to shine and each set of shows was special for different reasons.  There was much more thought and care put into every show than on tours previous.  Every stop had the same magic as Red Rocks from last year, every show was a must-see, and the whole experience of each venue was greater than just the sum of its individual shows.  If this is the future of live King Gizzard, then we are only now entering the Golden Age of the Gizzverse. In particular, I would like to reflect on their latest musical experiments in improvisation.  After a trip to Dead and Co, the boys are experimenting with longer, drawn-out improvisational jams in addition to the usual Riff-and-Tease style.  If the boys continue these experiments, the Chicago residency will live forever as a pivotal moment in their jammy phase.  If not, then these shows will forever be fixed in legend as “The Dead Gizzard” shows.

Albums and songs

I’m In Your Mind Fuzz – 2 – Hot Water, Am I In Heaven? Quarters – 1 – The River Paper Mache Dream Balloon– 1 – Trapdoor Nonagon Infinity – 4 – Evil Death Roll, Invisible Face, Wah Wah, Road Train Flying Microtonal Banana – 2 – Rattlesnake, Nuclear Fusion Polygondwanaland – 3 – Inner Cell, Loyalty, Horology Gumboot Soup – 2 – Down The Sink, The Great Chain of Being Fishing for Fishies – 3 – Boogieman Sam, Plastic Boogie, This Thing Infest the Rats’ Nest – 3 – Planet B, Mars for the Rich, Self-Immolate K.G. – 2 – Minimum Brain Size, Honey L.W. – 2 – O.N.E., Pleura Butterfly 3000 – 1 – Shanghai Omnium Gatherum– 4 – Dripping Tap, Magenta Mountain, Gaia, The Garden Goblin Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava – 2 – Ice V, Magma Laminated Denim – 1 – Hypertension Changes – 3 – Change, Hate Dancin’, Astroturf PetroDragonic Apocalypse – 5 – Motor Spirit, Supercell, Converge, Witchcraft, Gila Monster Total = 41 songs (not including teases)