When a Seven-Piece Progressive Psych Rock Band Reaches Mainstream Success
Perched high above the chaos, on the second-floor of the Hollywood Palladium, I witness King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s sold-out crowd devolve into a swirling mosh-pit—a foot jutting out here, a hand there, a crowd-surfer or two emerging for air. The seven-piece Australian psych rock band is on the first hour of an epically long and complex musical journey—a wall of hard, distorted guitar shredding and progressive rock rhythms, barely permeated by a word of banter between songs. Skinny, head-banging and flailing at the front of the ensemble, is King Gizzard’s charismatic lead singer and guitarist, Stu Mackenzie, whose lysergic lyrics weave imagery of rattlesnakes and crumbling castles over Eastern-inspired cadences that warp the traditional 12-note scale. While Mackenzie’s electrifying stage presence is magnetic, it is clear that he is met by equals when looking at the high-level of musicianship displayed by his bandmates. This is no rock n’ roll amateur hour—an onslaught of crashing cymbals and discordant sounds that leaves the listener wondering, “was that really good, or was it just loud?” No, this is a carefully calculated soundscape—King Gizzard’s harmonies and rhythms are so tight, they leave no room for questions as to their musical merit. The proof is presented in the jaw-dropping fact that there are two drummers in the band, facing each other on expansive drum kits, precisely hitting polyrhythmic beats. In this way, it becomes almost comical how aesthetically understated the band appears, donning casual tee-shirts and ripped shorts, hair unbrushed, as they lay down some of the most complicated experimental sounds of modern-era psych rock. King Gizzard is no lazy garage band, but a veritable powerhouse, having put out thirteen albums since their formation in 2010—five of those albums released in the span of the last year. Beyond their innovative approach to sound, the band is also paving its own way in the industry, recording under independent label, Flightless, founded by one of King Gizzard’s drummers, Eric Moore. Even without the support of a major label, King Gizzard has managed to attain unheard of levels of success for the underground scene, winning the $50K Carlton Dry Global Music Grant in 2013, touring sold-out shows in popular venues throughout The States and Europe, performing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and even scoring an editorial in Rolling Stone. Considering their musical prowess, humble appearances, and the off-beat hilarity of their name, it’s difficult not to root for the exponential success of King Gizzard—long live the Lizard Wizard!
Listen to King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s most recent album, Gumboot Soup, here: