Live Concert Photography: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard with Stonefield and ORB at SummerStage Rumsey Playfield 8/28/19
Back in 1986, City Parks Foundation created SummerStage in the spirt of Central Park’s original purpose — to serve as a free, public resource to help culturally enrich the lives of New Yorkers through live concerts, dance performances, and other cultural events. Starting with relatively humble beginnings at Central Park’s Naumberg Bandshell and expanding to an annual series of over 100 free, outdoor performances at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield and 17 other neighborhood parks across the city’s five borough’s between June and October to over 200,000 New Yorkers — the majority being free of charge.
Much like its counterpart outdoor concert festival, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, SummerStage has hosted an eclectic and lengthy list of internationally renowned and emerging acts across a wide variety of genres, cultures and styles on all of their stages including Sun Ra Arkestra, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mavis Staples, Elvis Costello, Big Daddy Kane, Seun Kuti, Femi Kuti, Lettuce, PJ Harvey, Dr. John, Bonobo, Blood Orange, Roy Ayers, McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, Ron Carter, Homeboy Sandman, Whoodini, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, DMC, Common and a lengthy list of others.
While the overwhelming majority of SummerStage’s annual programming its free and primarily donation based, Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield hosts a handful of benefit shows co-presented by The Bowery Presents to help support City Parks Foundation’s continuing efforts to present free arts programming to New Yorkers across its five boroughs. Late last month, I had the privilege of covering one of this year’s handful of benefit shows, which featured two Aussie JOVM mainstays King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Stonefield, with fellow Aussie psych rockers ORB.
Now as you may recall, the genre-defying Aussie psych rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard released five albums in a wildly prolific burst in 2017 with each one managing to be a completely different and style. That feat further cemented their reputation for being both restlessly profile and experimental. So for a band known for being clockwork when it comes to releasing new material, last year’s lack of an album sticks out as an anomaly. However, in fairness to the band, they spent a part of last year on a relentless world tour that featured a headlining set at Desert Daze and three-sold out nights at Brooklyn Steel, one of the larger venues they had played at the time in the States — until their Rumsey Playfield show last month.
2019 finds the acclaimed Aussie act seeding up the pace. Earlier this year they released the boogie blues-tinged Fishing for Fishies and last month, they released their second album of the year and 15th album overall, Infest the Rats’ Nest. The band’s 15th effort features an extremely pared down lineup: the band’s creative mastermind Stu McKenzie (vocals, guitar, bass), Joey Walker (guitar, bass), and Michael Cavanaugh (drums) with the band’s remaining members busy with prior commitments. Interestingly, the reduced lineup allowed the band to focus on crafting much tighter arrangements with a pummeling and feral ferocity inspired by McKenzie’s long-held love of thrash metal — in particular, Metallica, Black Sabbath, and Rammstein. And as result, the album sonically and even thematically is a radical and unexpected departure from its immediate predecessor, with the material being arguably one of the darkest and bleakest efforts. The album finds the band seething with disgust and contempt over a myopic, stupid and greedy human race blindly marching lockstep to its own annihilation.
King Gizzard’s headlining SummerStage set was a career-spanning set that bounced between material off their recently released 15th album, April’s Fishing For Fishies, Murder of the Universe, Microtonal Flying Banana and others. While in the photo pit for the show, a fellow photographer and myself marveled over how during their set we heard at various points at least four different styles of music, including the difficult to describe “Cyboogie.”
I’ve written quite a bit about King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, including some of their side projects — most notably The Murlocs, who played at Bowery Ballroom earlier this year. I’ve also written about a number of other Aussie acts, including the Darraweit Guim, Australia-based sibling psych rock quartet Stonefield. Comprised of Amy (drums, lead vocals), Hannah (guitar), Sarah (keys) and Holly Findlay (bass), the sibling psych rock quartet began playing together when they were all extremely young — the youngest member was seven while the oldest was 15.
Eldest sister Amy recorded their first single “Foreign Lover” for a school project, and then she reportedly entered the song into Triple J’s national, unsigned band competition for youngsters Unearthed High as an afterthought. As the story goes, much to Amy Findlay and her sisters’ surprise, the band wound up winning the contest, and within an incredibly short period of time, the Findlays had two singles receiving regular airplay on Australian radio and an invitation to play at Glastonbury Festival.
Since their attention-grabbing Unearthed High win, the Aussie sibling act and JOVM mainstays have been rather prolific,. as they’ve written, recorded and released two EPs and four full-length albums — 2013’s self-titled album, 2016’s As Above, So Below, 2018’s Far From Earth and Bent, which was released earlier this year. Their last two efforts were released through King Gizzard’s Flightless Records, and both of these albums found the band pushing their sound towards grunge and doom metal, seemingly influenced by Black Sabbath, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Interestingly, their SummerStage Rumsey Playfield set was a career-spanning set that was primarily centered around the material off Bent.
Opening the night was the Geelong, Australia-based heavy psych/hard rock act ORB. Comprised of Zak Olsen (vocals, guitar), Daff Gravolin (guitar, bass) and Jamie Harmer (drums), the band can trace their origins to the breakup of the trio’s previous band The Frowning Clouds. As the story goes, the trio didn’t live far from one another, and with some extra time on their hands, they began jamming regularly. Largely inspired by their youthful enthusiasm and love of acts like Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult, the trio began writing material that drew tongue-in-check inspiration from doom metal, psych rock and hard rock. The longer the members of the band crafted heavy rock, heavy psych and doom metal inspired jams, the less they began approaching the music with a smirk, taking it much more seriously.
January 2015 saw the release of their debut effort, Womb, a five-song cassette tape. Within a few months of the tape’s release, the trio had earned a profile as one of Australia’s up-and-coming heavy rock acts, eventually signing a deal with Flightless Records. Flightless Records released the band’s first vinyl release ever, the “Migration”/”Migration 2” 7 inch, which was released in November 2015.
Building up on a growing profile, the trio full-length debut, Birth was released through Flightless Records in Australia and Castle Face Records in the States and Canada to favorable reviews. Since then the band has released their sophomore album, 2017’s Naturality and last year’s The Space Between.