Rough Trade East, London
8th June 2009
Watching Gareth Liddiard sing is like witnessing a drunk arguing with his own reflection. His posture is one of vexed irritation, his face is strained, the tendons on his neck bulge, his entire frame in spasm. If there weren’t a guitar draped over one shoulder, you’d want to take two steps back, which for a Drones gig is perhaps the safest of options. Early evening appearance at an East London record store or not, this was no half-assed preaching to the converted or the curiously attracted to noise.
Proof that perseverance eventually pays off, The Drones have gone through playing to near empty rooms throughout the UK to a recent sell-out show at the Luminaire in London, which had I gotten my shit together, I would’ve reviewed instead, but whatever, this will have to do. The Drones, by way of Melbourne, Australia are undeniably Australian in content, manner and condition. Both live and on record they’re a staggering presence. In Fiona Kitschin’s lurching basslines lie the pumping heart of the band, through which Liddiard’s coarse vocals (and even coarser guitar playing) act like a bloodrush to the head and spring to life.
A three track opening volley from most recent album Havilah reduces the store to a stand-still as the band heave and howl through “Nail It Down”, “Oh Me” and “The Minotaur”, the latter with its brittle guitar riff jerking back and forth in staggered, jeering waltz. Their unnerving cover of Kev Carmody’s “River of Tears” was the only moment they dropped the volatility down a notch, the song itself a damning condemnation of police brutality against the Aboriginal community. There’s a sense of identity and heritage in The Drones that goes beyond coming from there and you can see it in the way they carry “River of Tears”, just like there is something undeniably Australian about calling a song “She Had an Abortion That She Made Me Pay For” and turning it into a blistering blues-laden frenzy.
Unfortunately for The Drones, they’re… I don‘t know, eternally adrift, looking for the right port to call home. Celebrated but somewhat isolated back in Australia, they have an ally in the growing strength of their label ATP and its associated festivals, but whether being more visible will make a difference to them, who knows. No matter which way you slice it, The Drones make for ugly rock and roll music. It’s the sound of a dozen hangovers the morning after falling down a flight of stairs. It’s the sound of arguing with your girlfriend about where you were last night. It’s just angry, intense and confronting, but I’d still take that over anything else any other day of the week.