Live: The Drones @ The Hi-Fi – 14/09/13

As we descend down the stairs into The Hi-Fi, the crowd is noticeably older. Many cans of Melbourne Bitter are scattered around the room, not to mention the fine assortment of beards. It’s a mature feel that certainly suits the ensuing sound of The Drones. With I See Seaweed — The Drones seventh studio album — now six months old, and the band one national tour down, the crowd is aware that what they are about to experience is not joyous music.They come on stage in a no-fuss fashion, and blast into album opener and title track “I See Seaweed”, a desperately fragile yet disturbingly violent eight and a half minutes, which is indicative of the records sound overall. Gareth Liddiard’s rough-as-nails, perfectly off-key voice wouldn’t get him past the first round of a commercial talent contest, yet it brilliantly delivers his frightening verse. He’s a storyteller in the truest sense, and there is an undeniable level of theatrics attached to the music. Liddiard could be reciting Dr. Seuss for all it mattered and you would still want to cower in the corner. Indeed, the showmanship is almost real for the first fifteen minutes or so of the show. Liddiard looks physically distressed through the first three or so songs of the night. After powering through a few tracks from the latest record, “Baby (Squared)” from Wait Long By The River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By is torn through guitars like chainsaws and thumping tom driven drums.The tension that was built up in the opening minutes then falls away, as a much mellower Liddiard jokes around with guitarist Dan Luscombe while crooning through a half-hearted rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive”. The Drones are epic, but without the pretension of artists typically making such grand, deep music. The light hearted crowd banter helps break up the otherwise unbearable intensity, as the two guitarists pretend to take a request for crowd favourite “Shark Fin Blues”.The swift return to heavy intensity is clear in tracks such as “Nine Eyes”, where Liddiard moans “I’m all I need/I’m finally on my own” in front of crushing overdriven guitars, eerily set off by the youthful yet unsettlingly innocent backing vocals of bassist Fiona Kitschin. Again the depressive aggression is counteracted by crowd banter, which quickly switches to “Who’s winning the footy?”—it’s September in Melbourne, don’t think that you can escape finals fever, even amidst the dark intensity of a Drones gig.After around an hour and twenty minutes of gripping, jarring rock, the now five piece quickly shuffle off stage before hastily being returned by a crowd eager for closure. The opening encore track is the beautifully melancholic album closer “Why Write A Letter That You’ll Never Send”, a nine and a half minute epic tale of nihilism, which fittingly ends in Liddiard breaking down to a whisper as he sings “I’m only trying to make the world/a much less painful place”. While it may have taken something away from the heartfelt doom of the second last track, the band is then joined on stage by all the members of support act Harmony for a take on Leonard Cohen’s “Diamonds In The Mine”. Definitely not the most memorable moment of the 85 minutes, but a slightly more uplifting way to leave the Swanston Street venue. Ironically, upbeat party-starters The Cat Empire were playing up the road at The Forum. Those leaving The Drones may not have been feeling nearly as upbeat as those leaving the latter venue, but they were certainly not disappointed. by Brendan Wrigley

September 17th 2013
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