Three nights of glory: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard at Red Rocks

Three nights of glory: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard at Red Rocks

Bailey Liverman

For many, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is not just a band, it is an event. It is a cultural moment. When a band has a catalog as large as King Gizz that spans as many different genres and with such incredible quality, people notice. In fact, people travel from all over to see their famed marathon sets, and I was lucky enough to attend not only one, but three of their marathon sets in the span of three weeks. This band played a total of three three-hour sets on Oct. 10, 11 and Nov. 2 at Red Rocks Amphitheatre and all the shows were incredible. You can tell a band is something special when they can make a three hour set feel like 20 minutes. You can tell a band is something extra special when you hear them for a total of nine hours over a course of three nights and they still leave a listener wanting more.

The first night was when the party really got started. They opened with some of their harder songs from their thrash metal album “Infest the Rat’s Nest.” A highlight from this album is the song “Hell,” which was the second song of the set. This portion of the show was characterized by hard-hitting chugging guitars, guttural vocals and fast paced percussion. The lyrics in this album detail a hypothetical future in which people on Earth become climate refugees and are forced to leave the planet while the rich live their best lives on Mars. Much of King Gizz’s music is centered around the climate crisis, and they tied the climate change theme back in with their last song of the show, “Planet B.” While much of their music is heavier, a lot of it is also less so. In this show, they also played “Magenta Mountain,” a synth-heavy song reminiscent of their work on their album “Butterfly 3000.” This music is much more palatable for the general public than their head-banging, melt-your-face-off work. They also played “The River” off of their album “Quarters,” which is a psychedelic rock album that is heavily influenced by jazz and surf music. Another personal favorite of mine was when they played “Rattlesnake” from their album “Microtonal Flying Banana,” which was their first foray into microtonal music. We don’t hear a lot of in western music, and often, when we do, it’s for music nerds who are more interested in the techniques used than the sound of the resulting music. Don’t get me wrong, King Gizz appeals to a lot of music nerds, but they do it in a way that is palatable to a wider audience and sounds great. All in all, the first night was one for the books.

The second night was also incredible! They started out with their song “The Dripping Tap” in order to celebrate guitarist/vocalist/bassist/cool dude Joey Walker’s birthday. He had a cake, and his girlfriend and child came on stage to celebrate with him. The second night was much more boogie-oriented than the first night, incorporating “The Bitter Boogie,” “Boogieman Sam” and “Cut Throat Boogie” which all come from different albums. In this show, they played three suites of music, one from “I’m In Your Mind Fuzz,” one from “Murder of the Universe,” and one from “Nonagon Infinity.” A lot of their music incorporates the harmonica in inventive ways that are very different from the country-western roots of the instrument. It gives the music a buzzy, almost twangy sound that fits into the songscape well. One example of this from the second night was during their “Nonagon Infinity” suite, more specifically the song “Gamma Knife,” which happens to be one of my favorite King Gizz songs. The harmonica, played by Ambrose Kenny Smith, shreds just as hard as the guitars. Ambrose also lends piercing, gritty vocals to many songs, including “Iron Lung”, from their album “Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms, and Lava,” one of the three albums they released in October 2022. This night was groovy and made me want to bang my head and move my hips. It did not disappoint, but exceeded expectations.

The third night of King Gizz was on Nov. 2, several weeks after the first two nights, but it still packed just as much of a punch as the first two. One of the most compelling facets of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s discography is the weaving and bobbing, disjointed and half-finished story known as the “Gizzverse.” This is a story of recurring themes throughout their albums, featuring the cyborg known as Han-Tyumi. He first appears in the music video for the song “Robot Stop”, but first speaks in the album “Murder of the Universe.” Coincidentally, this was the first suite of the third night of King Gizz at Red Rocks, featuring “Han-Tyumi the Confused Cyborg.” In this song, Han-Tyumi laments the two things that he, as a cyborg, cannot do that humans can. Han-Tyumi cannot die or vomit. This song illustrates not only the confusing, at times mildly disturbing, yet highly creative hive mind that is King Gizz. They also played their soft-spoken groovy love song “Her and I (Slow Jam 2),” which created a contrast against their heavier music and showcased the diversity of their discography. Another of their suites from night three were “Venusian 1” and “Venusian 2” from the album “Infest the Rat’s Nest.” These were sonically interesting, heavy and heaving, and chugged along in a way that made minutes feel like seconds. The third night was a whirlwind.

All of these shows were amazing, and I am so glad that I went to all three. The opener for all three nights, Leah Senior, did some high-pitched, musical, sing-songy speech over some of the songs from “Murder of the Universe,” and I got to see her do all three of the speaking parts from that album. That is fairly rare to see from King Gizz shows, so I am glad I didn’t miss it. However, the aptly named marathon sets were not just a marathon for the band, but for the audience as well. I came home exhausted every night, but it was well worth it. If there is one thing that I took away from the shows, there is one word to describe the band live, and it is this: tight. Even though most of their songs resolve into extended jams, they were incredibly in tune to their instruments and each other. Each show was well-practiced, particularly by the drummer. In all my days, I have never seen such technical, tight, mind-blowing drumming. The shows were incredible, and as a massive King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard fan, I am already stoked for the next shows. Come back to Colorado please!

Article and photograph by Bailey Liverman.
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