I can sum this concert up in three words: Ambrose Kenny-Smith.
The Philly concert with King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard had a lot going on. It was the last show of my short run with the band, it was the show where my concert partner knew the band the least well, and it was the one where I made the most friends leading up to the show. It was my first time in Philadelphia ever, and i had a great time exploring the city leading up to getting in lind. We were there early, and by 6pm I would guess there were several hundreds of people already waiting in line. So there was a lot to think about.
But the thing that really defined this concert for me was how hot it was in the venue. A combination of a hot Philadelphia day with 2000+ people stuffing themselves into a room to mosh the night away meant that we were all sweating like crazy, and nobody was willing to sacrifice their spot in the front to go and get an armfull of water bottles. My concert buddy ended up watching the show from the balcony (many, many thanks to her for being cool with me staying at the front!!) because it was getting so packed and hot up there. I was chewing gum the whole night to create the illusion of not-being-thirsty.
For the opening acts, Orb was particularly awesome that night, going on after Stonefield instead of before, and Stonefield was as spectacular as always. It doesn’t take long for things to feel like a ritual, and seeing these two bands open for Gizzard in this tour had that feeling. I hope to catch them as headliners, I’d like to see how they pace their performances, and I think it would feel like a reunion.
Before I knew it the venue lights had come up and animated flames were flickering on the screen behind the stage. They opened with “Planet B,” from Infest the Rats’ Nest, followed up with “Perihilion,” another from Rats’ Nest, which I heard at all three shows. AND THEN “THE GREAT CHAIN OF BEING!!” It would be easy to let this article disintegrate into an excited, glorified setlist.fm page — the Philly setlist was really good. With a songbook as large as Gizzard’s, anything from Gumboot Soup felt kind of special.
But— there was a point in this show where I felt like I had not properly done my concert prepwork. I could tell that I was on the border of dehydrated. It was very hot in the venue and I had been doing some intense daydreaming about water before Gizz came out. In between “I’m Not In Your Mind,” and “Cellophane,” Joey and Stu started screaming about how hot it was in the venue (this was the most banter heavy Gizz show I saw this year). Security guards handed out bottles of water at a rate I have never seen at a concert before — I got two over the course of the show. I think they went through three cases just on the side that I was on. Two guards came by with something that looked like a pesticide sprayer every couple of minutes and sprayed the crowd with cold water. It was hot in there.
Once I drank some water and was fully awake again (which happened somewhere during an epic version of the Mind Fuzz suite), I was really able to enjoy a setlist that showed off how much Ambrose brings to King Gizzard. They played an incredible version of “Acarine,” one of the weirdest and best tracks from Fishing for Fishies, where the parts that are usually played by shakers in the studio version were converted to fit into the drumkit. The harmonica moments for “Acarine,” are so beautiful, and the real highlight of this show was that I feel like it was the first time I was comfortably able to hear the harmonica. I went to an awesome Murlocs concert when they were in Cleveland this year, but I couldn’t really hear the instrument over the mix, and I was disappointed to feel that way in Toronto too. NYC was slightly better, but in Philly the harmonica was LOUD. I never thought I would be headbanging to the harp, but there I was.
After “The Bird Song,” Ambrose came to center stage to sing lead for a few songs, starting with”Let Me Mend the Past.” I was really stoked to hear this because (and this is a shameful admission), I had never really paid much attention to Float Along – Fill Your Lungs. When I heard that this song had come up at an earlier show on this tour, I checked out the album with more attention and discovered that I really love it – I feel badly for being so late to the party. Hearing “Let Me Play the Past,” live gave me the feeling you get when you properly study for a test. And Ambrose has a totally different tone as front person compared to Stu, and even to Joey who took lead for a few songs in Toronto. He does a lot more dancing, a lot more sillyness, and gets a little bit (or sometimes a lot) closer to the crowd than the other guys. It was interesting to see what his performance style feels like when meshed with the King Gizzard vibe. This Ambrose moment also broadened the spectrum of the tone of the show by a few degrees: the difference between “Let Me Mend the Past,” and “Perihelion,” is pretty noticeable.
Then we got a really cool block from Flying Microtonal Banana, including a very nasty “Billabong Valley.” I loved having the chance to hear this one live, since the cowboy-Western-flavored King Gizzard songs are an aspect of their catalog I didn’t feel like I had really heard live. “Boogieman Sam,” gave us more great harmonica content. And something about the “Cyboogie,” that they played in Philly was memorably good — it sounded a little bit scary, and that suited the song well.
The last song of the night was “Hell,” which felt like a stroke of wild luck (especially after getting two “Am I in Heaven?” closers at the other two shows I went to). Philly was the rowdiest crowd that I was in at a Gizzard show, granted I was behind the pit in NYC. People were really pushing and squishing and grabbing onto whatever they could hold. So ending on a note of energy that really matched the crowd really gave us one last chance to get it all out.
It was naturally sad to have the little tour that I went on come to an end, but I felt so lucky to have been able to see this band as many times as I did, and so grateful to have gotten such different songs from show to show. I left the concert drenched through and totally hoarse. And what really made this show special was that it had my favorite quality that live music experiences can have- everyone in the band seemed like they were having a really, really good time.