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DVD REVIEW: The Drones | A Thousand Mistakes

written by Chris Familton 

The Drones have been one of Australia’s hardest touring bands over the last decade with frequent trips to Europe where they have garnered a healthy following. Now, as they look toward the writing and recording of their next LP in 2012, they have decided it’s about time to release a visual document of some of their most incendiary performances alongside an intimate session recorded in a Fairfield, VIC warehouse in 2010.

This a hefty body of work spread over two discs that only the most devoted fan or long term couch dweller would be able to sit through in one go. Running at a total of four and a half hours they take the tact of starting with their most recent activity in the Fairfield Warehouse Session. It isn’t stripped down in the sense of being purely an acoustic performance (though they do use acoustic guitars at times), more that the electricity has been reduced so the songs can step forward into the spotlight, away from the visceral, gut wrenching form that many of The Drones songs take when played live. The band is accompanied by keyboardist Steve Hesketh who has appeared on two of their earlier records. Here he adds a nice settling touch that rounds off the harsher edges and provides a fantastic counterpoint to Gareth Liddiard and Dan Luscombe’s guitars. The focus of this session is on some of their rarely played songs like the sprightly, country shuffle of Your Acting’s Like The End of the World, the shimmering lushness of Careful As You Go and one of Liddiard’s most impressive Australian history lessons in the harmonica and guitar led Sixteen Straws. The whole session is a masterclass of how to capture a band playing live in a format outside their normal stage frenzy. It is the highlight of A Thousand Mistakes by a country mile and rightfully stands as the central document on the DVD.

From there on the endurance test begins with a full show from the East Brunswick Club in 2010 and then on the second disc a selection of live tracks from Australia, France and Germany. The quality of footage differs wildly but always seems to capture the heady rush and cathartic release of The Drones as a live experience. The black and white shot Brunswick Club show has a barrel of highlights like a swaggering The Minotaur, the still classic sounding Shark Fin Blues and a pulverising version of The Miller’s Daughter that takes nearly ten minutes to torture and intoxicate the crowd like a direct descendant of The Birthday Party. The focus on the extra live footage is nearly always on Liddiard but allows enough of a glance at bassist Fiona Kitchin, Luscombe and drummer Mike Noga to demonstrate the importance of what they bring to the band’s sound. From the 2005 show The Tote we get to see an early incarnation of the band with Rui Pereira on guitar prior to Luscombe joining the band in 2006. Pereira shows on I Looked Down the Line and I Wondered that he was as crucial an element to the development of The Drones’ sounds as any other member that has passed through their ranks.

The chaotic handheld and up close style of the French footage is the closest you’ll get to feeling like you are part of the band and experiencing full immersion in their sound if you haven’t seen them live in a small venue. The band looks like they are in complete control and loving every second of the two sweat-drenched tracks we are witness to. A German festival performance gives us a more restrained set that lacks nothing by exhibiting more control and finesse as the songs are still given a widescreen treatment full of sonic peaks and valleys. River of Tears at Sydney’s State Theatre is beautifully shot with a softness of light that adds a layer of maturity and grace to their sound that doesn’t come across in any other of the live performances.

All in all this is an extremely generous collection of footage that highlights the importance and singularity of The Drones’ music. Their playing is always genuinely exhilarating, defiantly passionate and full of both indulgent rock escapism and literary astuteness. Not just a DVD for the fans this should provide a healthy insight into a truly great rock n roll band.

this review was first published on FasterLouder