Live Review: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard Rock 4 Nights of No Repeats in Rural Tennessee

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard © Keith Griner 2023
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard © Keith Griner 2023
Prolific Aussie sextet King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard rocked out in a cave, dressed in drag, played a rare acoustic performance, and debuted three songs during residency in rural Tennessee.
Stream: “Dragon” – King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard wrapped up the first stop on their U.S. residency tour Sunday night, capping off a four-day run from June first through forth at The Caverns in Pelham, Tennessee.

Fans in attendance were treated to a high-octane journey through the Aussie sextet’s prolific discography that included two shows in an intimate underground cave; the live debut of three songs; a drag night in protest of the Tennesee anti-LGBTQ and drag show bills passed in March; and an acoustic performance.

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard USA Residency Tour 2023 poster
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard USA Residency Tour 2023 poster

To say these shows were special would be an understatement. In the same way that Deadheads look back on the spring of 1977 and Phish fans do for the fall of 1997, I think Gizz fans will look back on the residencies of 2023 and acknowledge that they were some of the best shows the band ever played.

Night one immediately set the tone for the run with a powerful setlist filled with metal, garage, and prog jams. Highlights include a smoking “Dripping Tap” opener, a surprising five songs from the album Nonagon Infinity, the live debut of the song “Supercell” off the band’s upcoming album PetroDraconic Apocalypse, and the new album’s single “Gila Monster.”

Diamondback climbing walls
Puncture wounds, torn and mauled
Raging monster, witch brawl
Backlash, battlecry, curveball
Pushed and probed to the edge
No sense of forgiveness
I’m the gila, the blood spiller
The witch killer, I’m the gila

The band kept the energy high on night two with a strong mix of metal, microtonal, and jammy tunes. The garage-psych “Mind Fuzz” suite; the long-awaited live debut of “Astroturf,” the first song played live from the album Changes; a bust-out of the Fishing for Fishies fan-favorite track “This Thing;” and the new thrash metal tune “Converge” were all defining moments from night two in the cave.

The band didn’t lose any momentum as they moved outside for night three. Decked out in dresses and lingerie, the band rocked gnarly versions of the microtonal anthem “Rattlesnake,” the prog-metal jam “Gaia” — which included a snippet of the unreleased song “Motor Spirit”— and “Boogieman Sam.” The debut of the blitzing new tune “Witchcraft,” perhaps the best song from their upcoming album so far, and the show-closing “Head On/Pill,”  were two of the best moments of the night.

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard © Keith Griner
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard © Keith Griner

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard © Keith Griner
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard © Keith Griner

It cannot be overstated how badass it was to see Gizz come out dressed in drag to stand in solidarity with their fans against the bills,

which, among other things, criminalized drag performances and banned age-appropriate, best practice gender-affirming care for trans youth. It was almost comical seeing them shred “Self-Immolate” and other heavy metal tunes under the Strawberry Moon clad in dresses.

But it speaks to the community that Gizz has created for the fans at shows. There is an energy present at King Gizz shows that has been vacant from the music world for a long time. Fans from all walks of life and musical backgrounds can come to a Gizz show and express themselves unabashedly with support from the band.

After fans encouraged each other to dress in drag on the band’s subreddit, for example, Gizz not only advertised it on their social media but sold pins to raise money for the ACLU’s TRANScend Tennessee program and partook themselves.

“That fucking bullshit bloody bill that they’re trying to pass in this state,” guitarist Joey Walker said. “We woke up today, fortuitously, to see that a federal judge, who Donald Trump actually put there, said that it’s a fucking bullshit thing. So this ain’t no protest baby, it’s a celebration! Express yourself!”

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard © Keith Griner
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard © Keith Griner

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard © Keith Griner
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard © Keith Griner

After a spur of thunder and lightning threatened cancelling the show, Gizz returned to the stage for their forth and final night and treated fans to a rare acoustic set. Despite going unplugged, the set was still filled with energy and far-reaching jams. “The River,” “The Wheel” and “Lonely Steel Sheet Flyer” are all worth revisiting. Hearing “Han-Tyumi the Confused Cyborg” acoustically was an unexpected treat and something we might not hear again for a long time. An emotionally-charged version of “Let Me Mend the Past” dedicated to multi-instrumentalist Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s father Broderick, who passed away in April, was the peak of the evening. After singing the final notes, drummer Michael Cavanagh ran from behind his kit to hug his bandmate.

That’s another thing that stood out during this residency; the band isn’t just touring to make a quick buck. They’re a family and it’s apparent from their on-stage banter and mannerisms that they have a lot of love for each other and are genuinely touring for the fun of playing music together.

Frontman Stu Mackenzie and crew constantly remarked how lucky they are to have fans willing to travel from around the world to rural Tennessee to see them play in a cave. It speaks volumes about the band’s character that they not only sought out unique venues for their fans to experience live shows at, but were also willing to be escorted through a sea of fans to make it onto the stage in the cave — there’s only one entrance in and no greenroom behind the stage.

Speaking of, The Caverns is an insanely cool venue. Looking in from the entrance of The Caverns Underground, the 1,200-capacity venue looked like the mouth of a rock giant. Walking around the cave you could feel how alive it was as water droplets dripped from stalactites. It is arguably the most “Gizz” venue possible to catch the band at and it felt like they returned to their natural habitat.

The outdoor amphitheater had its own allure. As if watching the sun set on the bucolic Tennessee countryside wasn’t beautiful enough, multiple shooting stars were spotted over the weekend and a Strawberry Moon rose above the stage like a cosmic disco ball during both of the band’s outdoor shows. As the moon rose, the audience howled like wolves, adding to the magic of the shows.

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard © Keith Griner
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard at The Caverns © Keith Griner

Red Rocks is considered by many to be the holy grail of destination venues, but The Caverns certainly gives it a run for its money.

I also have to take a moment to acknowledge the fans in attendance at all four shows. You will not find a kinder group of fans than the “Weirdo Swarm.” Camping out for the shows felt like being at a family reunion. Camp neighbors quickly became friends and conversations naturally turned to how everyone got into the band, their first shows, favorite albums, etc. By the end of the run it felt like people I just met were lifelong friends.

Gizz fans also wanted to make sure they left a good impression on the venue — in addition to being generally courteous and cooperative, people brought trash bags in to help pick up cans and trash after the shows.

The whole experience just felt perfect. The boys created such a unique experience for their fans, I think we’ll look back on this night especially fondly as the years pass by. Those of us who were lucky enough to be there will surely never forget it.

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