Rich Funk

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard Brave The Elements Closing Out Their Chicago Salt Shed Residency

Music Scene Media
Jun 15, 2023
10 min read

If I published a concert review that was only six words long and those six words were “It kicked SO much fucking ass" and left it at that, I probably wouldn’t be invited out to review many more concerts.

In the case of the closing show of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard's 3 night Chicago residency, it would also be the most accurate thing I’ve written all year.

Ever since leaving their show, I've been struggling to put together in my head how to even begin to describe what I just experienced. I guess the best place to start would be with some honesty: coming into this, I was not a KGATLW fan. It's not that I didn't like their music, I just wasn't familiar with their body of work. And holy cow, what a body of work it is. Despite forming in 2010, King Gizzard has produced a whopping 23 studio albums (and 15 live albums for good measure)! So how did I find myself covering a concert for a band I knew very little about? Because one of the few things I did know about them is that their live performances are not to be missed. Musically, they may not have much in common with bands like Phish or The Grateful Dead or Dave Matthews Band, but they are similar to those groups in having a massive and extremely devoted army of fans ready to travel well and see them multiple times on a single tour. You don't get that kind of fanaticism if your live chops aren't up to snuff.

Fueling those live performances are the aforementioned 23 studio albums. I swear I'm not making this up, nor am I playing this up for a joke, but I'm literally in the middle of typing this when the 24th album was released on Bandcamp (streaming services at midnight). THAT is how prolific their output is: I can't even review a single show of theirs without new music coming out in the meantime. We're talking about a band that's released 5 albums in a single year (and they've done that twice, once in 2017 and again in 2022, one of those five being a double album!). And when you have a catalog that extensive, you can do really rad things, like this 2023 residency tour - 4 cities, 3 nights per city (with one night in LA as a capper), and completely new setlists all three nights. Forget not hearing the same song twice in the same city...they have enough songs to not repeat a single one the entire tour!

After preparing for the show by watching this video of their absolutely bonkers set at Bonnaroo last year an unhealthy amount of times in the weeks leading up to the show as my only preparation, I arrived at Chicago's Salt Shed venue for what should have been a pleasant mid-June evening to temperatures in the low 60s and rain that would periodically switch between "a slight pain in the ass" to "oh wow this is bordering on torrential". Undeterred, I prepared myself to dive headfirst into the Gizzverse.

I almost can't talk about King Gizzard without touching on their fans and the culture they've built up over the last 13+ years. With the band pulling on so many eclectic styles for inspiration (more on that later), the crowds gathering for their live shows are made up of all walks of life. One thing that they all are is devoted. I talked to a couple that had been to 7 of the 9 shows on the tour so far, covering three states. And they were far from alone. You couldn't go more than a few minutes without hearing fans trading war stories about the many shows they'd seen in the past, some fans reaching triple digits. And their sense of community isn't just limited to live shows. Meetups are organized on the band's extremely large and active Discord, where fans gather in cities before shows to trade homemade merch and live bootlegs (both very much encouraged by the band). Most of their live shows exist both on video and high quality audio. It's like a giant, rolling carnival that rolls into town with a kickass rock band attached for fun. I may or may not have seen more than one person dressed as a wizard.

Also, I don't want to alarm anyone, but I think a few people might have been smoking marijuana. I know, I know...I'm as shocked as you are.

But before our journey Across The Gizzardverse (coming this summer), we were treated to a set from Kamikaze Palm Tree. Formed in San Francisco by Dylan Hadley and Cole Berliner, and joined by other musicians when playing live, KPT is described as "circular and psychedelic art rock, hiding clingy melodies beneath deadpan vocal delivery and experimental production". And as wordy as that explanation may seem, it's a spot on description of their sound, with quick, almost micro-songs that hang around just enough for you to start getting a hold on before changing directions or moving on. Like an impressionist painter only with music instead of a canvas. And while under normal circumstances their purposefully low-key (low-est key?) performance might have seemed out of place at a rock concert, it was perfectly complemented by the rainstorm that started getting pretty serious throughout their time onstage.

Taking the stage to all of their instruments and amps hastily covered in various tarps and the capacity crowd (as well as the entire front of the stage) being absolutely soaked in the downpour, singer/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Stu Mackenzie took a good look around before proclaiming "Fuck yeah! This shit has me excited!" Neither he nor the rest of the band (Ambrose-Kenny Smith, Joey Walker, Cook Craig, Lucas Harwood, and Michael Cavanagh) seemed phased by the pouring rain. "Is it alright if we do some heavy metal?" Mackenzie asked the crowd before the group launched into "Gila Monster", one of the tracks released early off their (at the time) upcoming album. The reason Stu had to clarify the type of music they intended to kick off their set with? Because King Gizzard have touched on almost as many genres in their time as a band as they have albums. While usually classified as psychedelic rock, the band has veered into surf rock, jazz fusion, acoustic folk, prog rock, and even entire albums devoted to experimenting in microtonality. So not only do you have literally no idea what song the band will play until the first few notes hit your ears, you don't even know what genre to expect. Like drinking out of an unlabeled glass not knowing whether it's Coke, Dr. Pepper or root beer. You know you're going to love whatever you end up with, but the unknown adds just that much more of a thrill. Also, in this case instead of Coke it's a thrash metal riff that would sound right at home on an Anthrax album and instead of root beer, it's a flute breakdown that would make Jethro Tull retire out of jealousy.

(Is Jethro Tull retired? Wait, is Jethro Tull a guy's actual name or just the name of the band? I'll look into it...)

The band promised heavy metal, and heavy metal is what we got. After playing "Converge", another track off their new album, the multiple mosh pits got zero time off with back to back renditions of "Planet B" and "Mars for the Rich" that made glad the show was outside so we didn't have to worry about the roof caving in on our heads.

And just as suddenly as the mayhem started, things cooled off considerably. Crunchy riffs and thunderous headbangs were replaced by absolutely bitchin’ harmonica solos and straight up dancing, with songs like “Plastic Boogie” and “This Thing” perfectly capturing the groovy-rock sound that bands like The Black Keys and Queens of the Stone Age aspire to. Like one of those magicians seemingly pulling an endless number of colored scarves out of their mouth, there was seemingly no end to the different musical styles King Gizzard took us through, sometimes within the same song. By the time the final cacophony of guitar solos and cymbals closed out an absolutely marathon rendition of “The Dripping Tap” to end the evening, it seemed like not enough and too much at once. Not enough because the entire set was only 12 songs long. Too much because…well, what else could they possibly have in their bag to show us that we hadn’t already gotten?

When you look at King Gizzard from a 5,000 foot view, there's so much about their popularity that just doesn't make sense. At a show two days before the release of their new album, they only played two songs off of it. They've never had a single or an album on any American chart. Hell, the title of their new album is PetroDragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation, not exactly something that rolls off the tongue. They don't have a single genre they stick to. It's almost impossible to be intimately familiar with their entire discography.

And yet, it all works, and it works so well. For years, Kid Rock would start his concerts by playing his biggest hit, figuring that if he got the one song that everyone wanted to hear out of the way, they wouldn't be as concerned about when it was eventually coming. While Kid Rock and I probably disagree on 99.99% of all things, he may have been on to something and it's something that King Gizzard is tapping into on a more extreme level. They have no 'staples' that you can expect to hear every time you see them live, so you never have to worry about whether you'll hear a certain song or not, and it means just THAT much more when you do get a nice surprise (like the live debut of Change we were treated to). When you go to a show where literally anything can happen, you find yourself more open to the experience that everything IS happening, right now around you. Your only responsibility is to sit back, lean into the mosh, and strap in for the ride.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard Setlist - The Salt Shed, Chicago 6.13.23

Gila Monster
Planet B
Mars for the Rich
Plastic Boogie
Hot Water
This Thing
Magenta Mountain
The Garden Goblin
The Dripping Tap

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