Given a time machine and unlimited plutonium, I’d revisit last night in Central Park to watch King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard again and again from multiple angles. I’d rush the stage to soak up the synchronicity from between their double drum sets until security booted me out, then I’d fire up the time machine again and go back for a different view. In real life, there was too much razor-sharp musicality happening all at once to catch every detail, but that’s always how it is with these seven psych-rock icons. Even with no distractions, it would be tricky to analyze, let alone verbalize how their intricate contributions click together. Being on the SummerStage rail or anywhere near it was like treading in rough ocean currents and trying to keep your head above water. With the central whirlpool of bodies rushing in circles and pushing toward the front, it was a victory if you could find ample space for your ribcage from minute to minute. As rough as it got though, the mosh pit etiquette in NYC was remarkably loving. Shocked security guards sprung into action to coordinate safe landings. King Gizzard paused with concern to ensure that one crowdsurfer who’d hit the ground was okay (he was waving and cheering seconds later). Clothing, poster tubes, and valuable merch – some fans dragged in backpacks full of albums in the hopes of getting them autographed later – were protected and seemed to make it back to their owners; hopefully even the one chick shouting, “I have the wrong shoe!” at the end of the night. Young kids thrashed safely from their parents’ shoulders (can you imagine having such an awesome childhood?) and everyone really looked out for each other.
Part of the build-up in energy that bubbled over like that came from openers ORB and Stonefield, both of whom clearly impressed the already-packed pit. The fellow Australian rockers were also a hit when they opened for King Gizzard at Webster Hall two years ago, and Central Park welcomed both bands with affectionate cheers. This time, ORB kicked off the show, piquing visible interest with their guitar-driven jamming and trippy digressions. Drummer Jamie Harmer shook up the tempo on songs from last year’s The Space Between and their 2017 record, Naturality. Lead singer/guitarist Zak Olsen and bassist Daff Gravolin even traded instruments for several songs, Olsen switching to bass and Gravolin taking over the shredding and soloing. NYC was then treated to some heavy jamming by Stonefield, whose metal- and psych-influenced sound makes their songs sound like old classics you’re just now stumbling upon. The Findlay sisters – Amy, Hannah, Sarah, and Holly – are some badasses you should definitely know about if you’re into searing rock and unpredictable riffing.
If you’ve ever felt your stomach flip with excitement as you inch toward a big drop on a rollercoaster, that is perhaps the closest physical comparison to figuring out which King Gizzard song is coming up next in a packed crowd like that. “Brace yourself!” could be heard throughout the pit whenever something heavy got going, especially thrash metal songs from their killer fifteenth record, Infest the Rats’ Nest, released earlier this month. Stu Mackenzie, who was rocking a Whitney Houston tee, was in full “eeyup!” mode last night and showed his appreciation for NYC’s ravenous energy right away. “It’s so nice to be here. It’s really, really, really a real treat. We’re very lucky. Thank you!” As usual, their set was such an epic, seamless freak-out, the boys didn’t waste time talking, but Joey Walker briefly echoed that sentiment later on. “It’s a privilege, and we fucking love it,” he said, thanking everyone gleefully.
There’s a reason I strangely crave a chance to sit on the stage and meditate between double-Gizz-drummers Michael Cavanagh and Eric Moore, who wore matching orange jumpsuits and polar opposite amounts of makeup last night (Cavs’ eyeshadow made him look more metal than ever). Witnessing their coordinated rhythmic mastery is like watching some kind of steampunk contraption in action; it’s seriously unfathomable how they keep it locked in so tightly, especially with all of that double-bass thrash metal, time signature insanity, and their fickle taste in tempos. Joey, Cook Craig, and Lucas Skinner fit into their hard-hitting foundation beautifully, their crucial layers filling in seemingly every fraction of the beat with action. Ambrose Kenny-Smith received an onslaught of love as he brewed sweet grooves on keys and delivered his essential harmonica solos. Amby’s setup has changed a lot now that more members are equipped with synths; these days, he just has one keyboard and a little lineup of harmonicas at the ready. And in the midst of Stu’s otherworldly presence, nimble riffing across instruments, microphone-swallowing, and hair-tornado headbanging, his vocals were noticeably gorgeous. The band backed him fiercely, of course, but the crowd might have had it covered themselves; you wouldn’t believe how many boogies King Gizzard’s fans flung back at them with passion.
The setlist they bestowed upon NYC was one that triggers an “Oh man!” reaction from anyone who knows their vast discography. A supercharged “Self-Immolate” and “Perihelion” from Infest the Rats’ Nest opened it up with a genuinely scary burst of energy. Up next were “The Great Chain of Being” from Gumboot Soup, followed by a raging “Plastic Boogie” (from the first fantastic album they put out this year, Fishing For Fishies). They took us to another dimension with “Inner Cell,” “Loyalty,” and “Horology” in that order, the sacred trio of songs straight out of Polygondwanaland that fueled just as much moshing as their hardcore stuff. The following run was deliciously sick too: a nasty-good “Boogieman Sam” quickly sank to the depths of “Evil Death Roll” from Nonagon Infinity, plus “Digital Black,” “Vomit Coffin,” and “Murder of the Universe” from MOTU. In an arresting twist, they pivoted to the cool vibes of “This Thing,” “The Bird Song,” and “Cyboogie” from Fishing For Fishies. Everyone lost their minds over the pure fury and sharp commentary on classism that is “Mars for the Rich” as their 10pm curfew snuck up on us ruthlessly.
Their encore-less show ended with over twelve minutes of “Am I in Heaven?” that included a mind-blowing medley; they Frankensteined bits of “Altered Beast,” “Rattlesnake,” Nonagon Infinity, a hyperspeed “Boogieman Sam,” and “Cellophane” into a colossal climax that is still being discussed online. Last night’s setlist was the stuff of Gizzardy dreams, so it’d be crazy to gripe, but attendees may lament that the much-desired “Tezeta” indeed made the list (intended to follow “The Bird Song”), but was not played – seemingly due to Stu’s keyboard having malfunctioned shortly before that. And instead of a penultimate “Venusian 2,” King Gizzard busted out “Planet B,” which wasn’t on the setlist (“There is no Planet B.” Gizzverse confirmed). Right before that scorcher, appropriately, Ambrose commented, “You guys look nice and sweaty!” It was really a mixture of sweat, start-and-stop raindrops, tossed drinks, spit from everyone’s aggressive singing, and surely even some tears, but he was right; the tangled fans in the pit were utterly drenched.
Stu’s fast yet sincere thank you to Central Park, in between a few gracious bows, had a rhythm of its own. “We really, really, really appreciate it. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” On the rare occasions that King Gizzard politely address fans between their explosions of genre-defying joy, you once again get the feeling that they never set out to be rockstars. They were simply such skillful, creative, hardworking musicians that people gathered around them to watch – the most organic kind of fan base, based on a shared appreciation of their talent alone – and that crowd has been multiplying ever since. It’s a wonderful feeling seeing these guys top themselves repeatedly and continue to show people why they’re unlike any other band on this planet.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley