The Drones are apparently about to knuckle down and bury themselves in the recording of a new record so this mini tour of Melbourne and Sydney was a great chance to see them before their set list changes and a new raft of epic tales and guitar maelstrom is added to their songbook.
The Annandale has always been a great place to experience The Drones – hot, cramped, sticky floor, it all seems to add to the sound and look of the group who have grown to become Australia’s greatest contemporary rock band.
Jack Ladder had opening honours and he impressed the punters with his evolving sound. For the most part the garage soul thing has been cast aside, though his voice still carries that blueprint regardless of the musical setting. Sounding like Bryan Ferry fronting an 80s tinged Suicide, Ladder is a towering figure with a deadpan expression and one of the finest voices going around. Laurence Pike’s drumming was insanely expressive as ever, like a machine with a soul, while sidekick Kirin J Callinan was just Kirin J Callinan, resplendent in tight 3/4 length green pants and throwing marionette-like guitar shapes.
In front of a packed house The Drones took the stage and after some George Michael jokes about the singer calling Melbourne – Sydney, they launched into the epic Jezabel with its grinding and relentless switch between yearning chorus and tension filled, word heavy verses. It was a killer way to start the show and set the scene for 10 or so songs of intensity, dark groove and ragged and rabid fury.
Eschewing many of their regular songs they trawled their back catalog for songs like the Bad Seeds rumble of Six Ways To Sunday from their 2002 debut album and a Crazy Horse, heavy lidded version of The Freedom In The Loot from 2005. Of the more recent songs the stomping The Minotaur was a highlight with its pummeling stop-start aggression and swagger. They were also able to still breathe raw emotion into what has become their signature song Shark Fin Blues. A song that never fails to move an audience and with Gareth Liddiard screaming the Na Na Na melody with neck veins bulging and eyes rolled back it was clear the band still have a strong passion for the song.
A reverential reworking of Kev Carmody’s River Of Tears was both tender and bruising and it showed how well The Drones can make a song theirs with the distinctive vocals of Liddiard and their woozy, scorched earth guitar sound.
The band finished their set with a turbo charged version of I Don’t Ever Want To Change, definitely a good mantra to take into their next album. In many ways the show felt like an exercise in blowing out some cobwebs before their next move. It was also nice to see a band that didn’t outstay its welcome with an unnecessarily long set. They came, they confirmed their greatness with an electrifying performance and left the stage exchanging knowing grins.