We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Warren Ellis is a magician: a rambling, staggering sorcerer of the violin. And when he and mates Mick Turner (guitar) and Jim White (drums) start to play, something terrible and beautiful begins to unfold. Not quite rock and definitely not folk, the music of the Dirty Three settles itself somewhere in between—circling the perimeter of improvisation and bypassing vocals for the pure emotive nuances of Ellis’ moaning violin. Its recent release, Ocean Songs, is the most sedate and aptly named collection in the Australian trio’s opus, relying on the interminglings of restrained guitar and meandering percussion to create an ebbing and flowing tidal background from which the violin alternately emerges and is submerged. With song titles like “Sirena,” “Black Tide,” and “Deep Waters,” as well as Mick Turner’s seascape album cover, it’s clear that this is a concept work, but the Three are content this time around to let the sounds evolve simply, as opposed to the melancholy-then-frenzied tactics of earlier albums Horse Stories and Dirty Three. While Steve Albini’s production lends a distant echo to the songs, it’s easy to imagine yourself on a sandy beach in some lost province, real or imagined, contemplating the stars in the middle of a dark, sleepless night, when the only sound to be heard is the call of the waves to the shore. The Dirty Three will transfix tonight, along with Calexico and locals Laconic Chamber at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 21, at the Black Cat, 1831 14th St. NW. $8. (202) 667-7960. (Amy Domingues)