Ways to trip sober: isolation tanks, white noise, and attending a King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard concert

If you’re a young person in the Bay Area, especially in Berkeley, it’s very possible you might be surrounded by people who never outgrew their teenage fascination with psychedelia. A random (and undeniably creepy) guy on Telegraph Ave tries to hand you a pamphlet on tantra love making. There’s that guy you don’t really know but see all the time in your apartment, whose relationship to LSD is probably more than experimental, tries to get a group together who are down to spend some time in sensory deprivation tanks. Psychedelic tie dye has become something of a local cottage industry. So I couldn’t help feeling a little bit of this Bay Area baggage as I approached the King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard concert at the Fillmore last Friday night.

One glance at the band’s album artwork makes you aware of their psychedelic influence. And, between the bubbly-sounding synth interludes, vaguely extraterrestrial word choice, and the fact that their most popular album, Nonagon Infinity (2016), literally plays in an infinite loop, their music isn’t exactly sly about disclosing their influences either. But little did I actually expect to be thrown into an unsettling, exciting, mood-swinging pseudo-”trip” just by their on stage presence.

The men themselves are alien in their unfamiliarity—all tall, lanky, and long haired, speaking in impenetrably thick Australian accents and each dancing just oddly enough that you wonder if they’re really human or humanoid. Stu Mackenzie’s dancing is an embodied anxiety loop, stepping back from the mic between verses and shaking his head side to side so fast that under the shifting lights he literally appears two-faced. The two drummers face not the audience but each other, rounding out the seven-piece band into a symmetrical mass– the end effect being more cinematic than one would expect for a rock concert. Backed by pixelated visuals indistinguishable as distorted film footage or something entirely computer-designed, their performance is hypnotic.

However, most startling was the moment they shifted from their smoothly strung-together thread of songs into “Robot Stop,” the striking opening track of Nonagon Infinity. A chill rippled through the audience’s collective mind, as a chorus of whispered “oohs” and “aaahs” sang in the crowd around me. Then Mackenzie’s stomach-curdling shriek sounded, the faded black and white narcotic visuals burst into vibrant color, and I was thrown into an over-stimulated trance. Ten feet to my right a girl collapsed, and I had to leave the crowd to get some air. But, coming back a few minutes later my favorite song was still in full effect, the less faint-hearted of the crowd moshing and head banging violently, lit by intense color changing lights and the projected visuals playing across Mackenzie’s shaking mop of hair. I found myself running through the crowd into the mosh pit, crowd-surfers animatedly tumbling above me (and, at one point, literally standing on someone’s shoulders) as my vision blurred the surrounding bodies. Though I wouldn’t assume my experience was replicable, it speaks to the power of their performance—mesmeric, immersive, and yes, undeniably “trippy.”

The Australian natives have a lot more to come—set to release two more albums this year (totaling to five for 2017) the craving for new music never goes unsatisfied. However, as for now their annual visit to the United States has wound down to its fateful end. Their visit to the bay area is a treat, and compared to the oftentimes smaller local bands the orchestral, over-the-top seven-piece is a rare one. But what that treat is laced with—that’s up to interpretation.

Written by Veronica Irwin
Photos by Rebekah Gonzalez

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