At the center of the Dirty Three's version of beauty is Warren Ellis' heavenly violin. He draws from both folk and classical traditions -- though in his hands the line between them is wonderfully fuzzy -- and directs the band's instrumental excursions into the place that only a weeping violin can visit. (He's played this violin with both Nick Cave and Will Oldham of the Palace Brothers and toured with Beck and Lollapalooza.) If Ellis were the only magnet, the Dirty Three would still be fantastic, but guitarist Mick Turner has a distinctive, gentle touch, and the interplay between the two creates a uniformly dazzling tension.
If there is a criticism of the band, it's that they follow a rather rigid template, often seeming to move on a one-way street: Most songs travel from soft and thoughtful to loud and angry, and only seldom do they vary. But they're done so well that it's hard to knock them. Take the amazing "I Offered It Up to the Stars and the Night Sky," from the new Whatever You Love, You Are (Touch and Go). The song begins with the introduction of a melody on Ellis' violin. It's here that the beauty of both the melody and his playing is most obvious, and he singlehandedly makes you care about the melody. Then Turner begins a conversation as drummer White measures the moments in between. Guitar and violin exchange ideas, quietly and ethereally, and the Three construct a loose structure within which to work. The structure wobbles and floats but remains relatively constant as the two increase the volume and tension. This rise happens so gradually that it's hard to even hear it, the same way a loverly spat progressively turns into a screamfest: The first words seemed innocent enough but in hindsight were quite obviously the start of something big. The Dirty Three are something big, something profoundly beautiful.