On their first three albums the Dirty Three trafficked almost exclusively in wild dynamic leaps: the subdued, lyrical melodies of violinist Warren Ellis would start things off, only to be broadsided time and again by Jim White's battered drums and Mick Turner's violently droning guitar. Those records offered a scaled-down version of what happened when the Australian trio played live, where the crescendo-happy high-intensity acrobatics often got too bombastic and predictable. With the recent Ocean Songs (Touch and Go) the Dirty Three have wisely chosen to alter their course, concentrating primarily on restrained interplay and dark, bittersweet tunefulness. It's not all placid--on the epic "Authentic Celestial Music" Turner's strumming gets abrasive and tangled and White occasionally slides out of control--but for the most part the band isn't relying so heavily on the old quiet-loud-quiet trick. Under Steve Albini's laissez-faire engineering, which would have worked well on earlier, more aggressive efforts, some of the more subtle elements--White's cymbal patter, the tonal depth of Ellis's violin--are submerged in the mix, leading one to speculate on the true meaning of the album title. But in any case it should be interesting to hear how the new material plays live. Calexico opens. Friday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Brad Miller.