The Drones + Harmony @ The Hi-Fi, Brisbane 26.09.2013
By Darragh Murray
The Drones – the Australian rock group that platitudes need not be draped upon. They don’t need them and I don’t think they really care for them anyway.
Often called the hardest working band in Australia. I’m not sure exactly what that means and by what criteria that is decided by. I know that guitarist/vocalist Gareth Liddiard and bassist Fiona Kitschin built their own pizza oven. But it’s more than likely that view is formed from a reading of their online tour diary from 2007, where guitarist Dan Luscombe documented the many trial and tribulations of the modern day touring group from the arse end of nowhere. Go read it, it’s excellent.
They’re back in Brisbane for the second time this year, promoting their single ‘A Moat You Can Stand In’. I’ll be honest, that single is OK, but I think far outshone by many of the other tracks on the group’s seventh record I Sea Seaweed. That single is not what I’m here to see. I’m here to see The Drones.
Actually, if I’m going to be 100% truthful here, I’m actually probably here more to see Melbourne’s Harmony play. I like The Drones, but I fucking love Harmony. Their 10am set at Golden Plains a few years back in front of a largely hungover or drunk crowd is a precious memory. Their more intimate set at The Waiting Room in Brisbane from sometime last year is even more special. People say they’re the best band in Australia at the moment. I don’t think they’re wrong.
They don’t transcend those memories tonight, but Harmony remain excellent. New single ‘Cut Myself Clean’ appears first, relying on the band’s three-part female choir to begin proceedings, but a slightly distracted Tom Lyngcoln (amp troubles weigh heavy on the mind) eventually chimes in with his soulful yowl. The whole group hit their stride about three songs in and previously uninterested bodies are dragged from the bar to indulge in the band’s unique gallow blues. ‘Extinction Debt’ from their debut is, as usual, their best song but ‘Do Me A Favour’ runs a close second. They end with ‘Cacophonous Vibes’. This is a good support for Harmony and I suspect those who were drawn here initially for The Drones may be reconsidering what to spend their merchandise budget on.
“What’s with all the disco lights?”
I don’t actually know what Gareth Liddiard is talking about. He says this just before the band launch into ‘Baby2‘, a song I had long hoped for. To my knowledge, it hasn’t appeared much on set lists in the last few years. I think it’s the song that introduced me to the band. It’s presence on the set list indicates some intention, a set full of swagger with minimal sentiment.
I like it when band’s play with abandon. As usual, Liddiard looks like his exorcising demons with his guitar. He’s a deranged Banjo Pattison with a Fender Jaguar. Dan Luscombe may be a bit tipsy. I can’t be sure. He’s enjoying himself, keeping his attention on the crowd, adding in the necessary noisy lead lines that make band’s songs so special. Fiona Kitschin and drummer Mike Noga are more reserved. Keyboardist Steve Hesketh remains self-effacing, workman-like but largely in the background.
Beginning with ‘I See Seaweed’ is a brilliant choice. It showcases much of what makes The Drones so respected. Liddiard preaches while the rest of the band builds somewhat grim expectations. I love the band more than I enjoy Liddiard’s solo work. I think that the collective noise of the quintet gives these tales all so much more emotional resonance. These feelings reappear later during the epic ‘Nine Eyes’.
While the set is inclined to the recent album, the performance touches of much of the past. ‘The Minotaur’ from Havilah appears early. The band answers a request for Ian Moss’ ‘Tucker’s Daughter’ with the usual powerful rendition of ‘Shark Fin Blues’. Gala Mill is represented by ‘I Don’t Ever Want To Change’ and the we’re treated to a riotous cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Downbound Train’ (which also featured on the band’s debut).
Ian Moss – not played.
For me, it’s the tragic ‘Laika’ that the show’s highlight. Taken from their recent record, I think this could be my favourite Drones song. It seemingly charts the sadness of the first dog in space and carries so much emotional weight. It works particularly well live, where it’s hard not to be drawn into Liddiard’s penetrating histories.
Weirdly, I don’t find the encore as enjoyable as what came before. We get ‘Why Write A Letter That You’ll Never Send’, a slower and sombre song that is perhaps a welcome break from the unruly rock that preceded. It’s not a song I’m particularly drawn too, but I see people singing it word for word in the crowd so perhaps I’m in a minority. The band then sign off by inviting Harmony back to the stage for a rousing version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Diamonds in the Mine’.
It’s an excellent concert showcasing one of Australia’s best new groups and one of Australia’s journeymen. They’ll probably never make the kind of money nor the fame many of their international colleagues make, but it’s at gigs like these you can see why The Drones, and to a lesser extent Harmony, will remain the critics darlings.