King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard Are Categorically Fun on Saturday

May 16th, 2016

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – The Bowery Ballroom – May 14, 2016

It wasn’t even two minutes into King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s latest headlining show in New York City, and you were already pogoing, maybe even head-banging, as if your body didn’t know any other reaction. That’s the thrall—and the thrill—of the Gizz, only a handful of years from buzzed-about Australian psych-rock curiosity to legitimate headliner, selling out The Bowery Ballroom well in advance and owning the tightly packed crowd from the second they stepped onstage (fittingly, to Motörhead). Gizzard are a seven-piece, a multifarious rock band, and that’s about where a suitably tight description ends. They’re a psychedelic band, for sure, and they’re also a raging punk band, or maybe a pop group with razor-sharp edges but also a jam band, or maybe just a bash-it-out garage band with a love of swirling keyboard effects, purple-shitstorm guitars, and unexpected snatches of harmonica and flute that can push their music toward more of a roadhouse-blues feel or a prog excursion when the current mood calls for it.

In roughly 75 minutes at Bowery, the focus was on the band’s new album, Nonagon Infinity—the latest evidence that they’re as prolific as they are adventurous, having released new music at least once a year since 2011. Songs like “Robot Stop,” “People-Vultures,” “Big Fig Wasp,” “Gamma Knife,” “Trapdoor,” “Evil Death Roll” were roared through rather than neatly packaged and placed, sounding remarkably like their titles suggest: a journey through a Spielbergian universe of space and jungles and deserts and past and future and love and death. The point is that you’re invested, that you’re self-aware, but not self-conscious. You’re in the cockpit with them through every set of lines, like “I distort the notion of the place, the universe’s other face/ The speed of light has slowed apace, the universe’s other face,” and they’re training you to respond to every swerve, hairpin turn and meltdown, whether it’s a harmonica break, an anthemic fist-pumping chorus or a slowed roll into something quieter, more folkie.

Nonagon is King Gizzard’s most ambitious work yet. It’s the one where the Australian rockers are finally sure they can pack all of this cultured madness into a coherent statement without it feeling too eclectic. Remarkably, their live show has evolved in kind, putting infectious energy behind that complex sound and turbo-charging it to where you’re scarcely aware an hour’s gone by but you’ve been bopping along—moshing, maybe, and on Saturday, possibly even surfing the crowd as more than a few revelers did—the whole time. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson