The Drones are in many ways the perfect band. Loved by their fans and adored by the critics, they are also hated in equal numbers. ‘Average’ is not a word often used to describe their sound. Their manic live shows driven by the irrepressible Gareth Liddard, have brought The Drones to the upper-most echelons of live bands in Australia over the last decade. Fittingly, they returned to The Gov on Friday night to celebrate the ten year anniversary of their seminal album, Wait Long By The River and Watch The Bodies of Your Enemies Float By.
As all album anniversary tours do, they bring out the best and worst in both the band and the punters. Friday night was no exception.
Melbourne-based Batpiss kicked off the evening with a tight set of sludgy punk to a solid and educated crowd. Seemingly leaving nothing to chance, the band let their sharp songs do the talking, with no breaks in between songs over the forty minute slot. It wasn’t a rapid-fire set for the sake of punk revival – it felt like an honest and modern take on the classic punk ethos. “We’re Batpiss from Melbourne,” mumbled the lead singer. Banter was minimal and that was more than fine. A very appropriate and warmly received start to the evening.
The thought of The Drones doing a retrospective album tour seemed weird; they’ve never been a band to pander to the masses or play fan-favourites for brownie points. Though The Gov copped Gareth Liddiard in a typically ferocious mood and all fears were arrested within the opening verse of ‘Sharkfin Blues’. Veins popping from his neck, spittle exploding from his mouth and showering the front row, the audience lapped up a rousing rendition of the well-worn Australian classic. To open with your most popular song is a risk, but only The Drones could deliver it with the energy and prowess required to make the impossible seem possible.
Without hesitation, Liddiard rolls straight in to 'Baby2' while throwing himself about the stage. The audience had heard these songs many times over the last ten years, but Liddiard seemed intent on bringing them back to life. Snarling and menacing around the stage, the band started with an energy that just didn’t let up throughout the night. The drunken swagger of ‘The Best you Can Believe In’ brought some audience respite, but only briefly as the band took the liberty to re-imagine it, with an extended raucous jam punctuated with Liddard’s effect peddles.
The odd-ball track ‘Locust’ brought about a strange change in atmosphere. A vicious warning look toward an unsettled front-row punter from guitarist Dan Luscombe, and a verbal sending-off from Liddiard saw the mood change. Liddiard shot daggers across the room to the noisy bar area and some choice words later, it seemed the show would continue as before. A remarkable version of ‘This Time’ brought the crowd back to order, but it didn’t seem to rouse Liddiard’s mood. The show suddenly seemed to lack that concentrated aggression which the opening brought, as an extended version of ‘The Miller’s Daughter’ seemed to amble along among the squalling guitars and extended instrumental outbursts. Liddiard threw his guitar in disgust half way through, leaving a shocked roadie to scramble on to stage to pick it up and replace it. That seemed to personify the second half of the show.
As the band left the stage with cheers of thanks from the faithful, and a longing chant for more, there was to be no encore. An awkward wait with the house lights off was finally ended with the flicker of the PA and house lights coming on again. Was it because the band were unhappy with the reception? Were they displeased with certain crowd members inattention early on? It’s hard to know, but after an hour and a half at full-throttle they couldn’t have given much more.
There is something exhausting and enthralling about seeing a Drones live show, even if there is no mosh-pit in sight. Wait Long by The River... is arguably the most visceral album released in recent memory - it deserved its own album tour. Live it sounded as angry and honest as it has always been, and let it be said that nothing in Australian music compares to seeing The Drones in full flight.
While Friday night’s show undoubtedly proves Wait Long By The Rivers' importance as a cornerstone of Australiana song writing, it’s hard to ignore that uneasy feeling punters left with – the show just could’ve been that much better.
Thumbnail image courtesy of The Drones.
Gallery images courtesy of John Goodridge and Amplify Australian Music Network.