Review by Patrick Martin
Photos by Dave Court
The Drones are a once in a generation band, both in the current Australian rock landscape and in the growing folklore of Australian rock bands and also an utter nightmare for any reviewer.
Unlistenable to some and undeniable to others, The Drones have carved an unlikely path to cult fandom over the last twenty years.
With their seventh and most challenging album to date Feelin’ Kinda Free under their belts, The Drones returned to The Gov Friday night to prove that their last show – which was undeniably awkward – was an outlier.
Melbourne six-piece Harmony had the unenviable job of warming up the growing crowd. Mixing an aggressive punk style of lead vocal - not dissimilar to the band they were supporting – Harmony violently cut between growing walls of grungy feedback with stunning vocal harmonies.
At first this creates an intoxicating atmosphere, drawing the crowd in with extreme changes in tone and style. The stark contrast between the vocal deliveries and skeletal percussion created an almost operatic sound. However the sets early successes slowly wore away on the audience as the contrasts became almost too much. A challenging and in some cases a rewarding set for an audience up to the task.
As eager punters pushed toward the stage and photographers jostled for front viewing rights, Gareth Liddiard enters the stage. Strolling out in a Bad Brains band t-shirt and sporting a mullet which looked like it was fashioned with a blunt knife, an air of nervousness seemed to follow him. A renowned lead singer and seasoned front man, nerves were unexpected.
However Liddiard immediately brushed off any air of nerves in the opening bars of ‘Private Execution’. Contorting his body while treating his battered red Fender guitar with contempt, Liddiard is the centre of audience attention as his eyes flame wildly. Without a hitch, the band move smoothly into lead single 'Taman Shud', intertwining Adelaide’s own murder-mystery the Somerton Man with some of the most jarring music The Drones’ have produced to date. The drums chug while the guitars jump and click almost inconspicuously.
The usually manic walls of sound of The Drones have been recalculated and revived but still remain mesmerising live.
This is not the same Drones we've known but it sounds almost quintessentially their own – the change in stylistic path is most obvious live but the destination is the same.
Tracks from Feelin’ Kinda Free dominate the majority of the set but they are never overdone. The pseudo-rap stylings of current single ‘Boredom’ brilliantly juxtapose the sweeping cinematic sound scape of ‘I See Seeweed’, while the sparse electronic sounds of set closer ‘Shut Down SETI’ sit comfortably alongside surprising inclusions ‘Jezebel’ and ‘I am the Supercargo’.
However, despite the change in sonic direction, The Drones haven’t changed live. They are still sonically brash verging on unruly, noisy verging on unintelligible and undoubtedly the most important rock band this country has produced.
Put simply, no band has ever given so many and so fewer a fuck than The Drones over the best part of twenty years. As ineloquent as it sounds, it is precisely this that proves them worthy of acclaim.
On Friday night it made perfect sense.