The Forum, Melbourne
Saturday 5 September 2015
$48.20, plus fees = $57.48
Wait Long By The Mixing Desk and the Bodies of the People In Front of You Will Move Away
There are four guys and one girl in The Drones, which is also roughly the gender ratio in the crowd at The Forum on this night. At one point towards the end of the show I looked across the section where I was standing and it was almost entirely populated by portly blokes with untucked shirts, holding a beer in one hand and nodding their heads in approximate time with the beat. This is not meant as criticism from some lofty or superior plane, for I pretty much fitted that identikit on the night.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, before The Drones came Batpiss. There are some bands who you can tell from their name are not actively courting FM radio playlists or seeking high rotation on MTV. Batpiss are such a band. Slugfuckers is another, and there’s a wonderfully titled band around Melbourne at the moment called ‘Fuck the Fitzroy Doom Scene’, but my favourite would have to be Anal Cunt – look them up, they’re a real band. I don’t know what they sound like, but I think I can guess. Likewise with Batpiss: they sound reassuringly like their name suggests they sound – relentlessly loud, aggro, shouty and with just a hint of that peculiar piquant stench given off by bat secretions. Visit the Royal Botanical Gardens if you want the authentic olfactory experience.
The bass player conceded the point about their name, at one stage looking about the Roman columns, statues and starlit ceiling and saying that when you call yourself Batpiss, you don’t expect to be playing in a venue like this. “It’s awesome. We’re fucking stoked” he added, before giving his instrument a decisive thrum and setting off into another barrage of thundering bass.
What Batpiss lacked in nuance and subtlety they more than made up for with energy and drive. Not my kind of thing really, but the majority of the crowd seemed to appreciate it judging by the cheers that greeted the momentary pauses in the maelstrom.
I’ve never seen The Drones before, but my friend Nina insists they’re the best live band this side of The Bad Seeds. I once saw lead singer Gareth Liddiard play a solo acoustic show to support his extraordinary solo album, Strange Tourist. At that show he spent more time yakking than playing, to the point where it spoiled the gig actually, so I was hoping for a less garrulous performance with the full band.
This gig was ostensibly a 10-year anniversary show for their pivotal second album, Wait Long By the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By. In my book about Hawthorn’s 2013 AFL premiership, I borrowed that title for the chapter about our win over Geelong in the Preliminary Final to overcome a 12 game losing streak against them. It seemed apt. As for the album itself, it wasn’t one I knew about in 2005 (I think I was listening exclusively to Ryan Adams that year), but when I did start listening to The Drones, Nina recommended it as a classic so I picked it up and on those occasions when I do listen to The Drones, it’s probably the album I play most.
After Batpiss finished I took up my usual Forum vantage point behind the mixing desk. I was a few people deep when I started, but by the time The Drones took the stage, everyone in front of me had cleared out to the bar, the toilets, the merch desk or the mosh pit, and left me at the front of the first raised level. Perfect.
Just as a music journalist writing about Courtney Barnett feels compelled to remind readers that she once worked behind the bar at the Northcote Social Club, so it is that when writing about The Drones, journalists trot out the fact that Shark Fin Blues, the opening track from ‘Wait Long By The River…’ was voted by peers (whoever they are) as the best Australian song ever. I don’t know if it is the best Australian song ever (let’s not rule out Joe Dolce’s Shaddup Ya Face or Christie Allen’s Goosebumps), but surely there’s got to come a time when it can either be assumed we all know this little factoid or that it simply doesn’t matter, and we can move on to the topic at hand.
Which I shall do now, for indeed, the band opened their set with said best Australian song ever as they settled in to play the album. Notwithstanding the fact that the show was celebrating the anniversary of Wait Long By the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By, the man behind me began yelling for Supercargo, despite the fact that it is from an entirely different album – 2009’s Havilah. He obviously didn’t get the memo.
In any case, the band didn’t oblige and got on with playing more or less the entire album in more or less the original sequence, working through Baby, The Best You Can Believe In and an impassioned reading of Locust – probably the highlight of the night. These are not so much songs as exposes. The music is not so much played as wrung from instruments and Liddiard doesn’t sing so much as expunge lyrics. At its best, the music emanating from the stage is a glorious, raucous noise, all brimstone and bombast, with Liddiard fulminating like a crazed preacher at the front.
Fiona Kitschin on bass stands with her back to the audience for the best part of the evening, only turning to face the audience when singing ‘Na Na Na’s’ into the microphone. I assume that this is customary and the likely provenance of the t-shirt on sale at the merch desk that says ‘For God’s Sake Turn Around’.
Dan Luscombe was as cool and casual as you can get on guitar. He reminded me a bit of Blixa Bargeld, not because he was attired in fetish wear, he wasn’t, but because he’s so relaxed on stage you think he isn’t doing anything, and then he gives his guitar one almighty strum and the glasses at the bar rattle and flakes of dust fall from the ceiling.
The first encore song was one I didn’t recognise, subsequently identified by various websites as Private Execution, which I think is a new one. It followed the typical Drones template but seemed more contained, almost restrained, and it was that very aspect that gave it an edge. They followed this with The Miller’s Daughter and a cover of Kev Carmody’s River of Tears.
They then invited Batpiss back on stage for what Luscombe announced would be a cover of The Wipers. I write that with an air of knowing familiarity, but to be honest, not only had I never heard the song before, I’d never heard of The Wipers. Not such a crime perhaps, they’re not exactly as ubiquitous as Coldplay, but when I subsequently looked them up, I saw that they were mostly active in the early 1980s, and I identified the song as Doom Town, one recorded in 1983, the very period of independent music in which I was most conversant. Or thought I was. But then I didn’t even know about ‘Wait Long by The River…’ in 2005 so what would I know?
The Drones more or less lived up to Nina’s extravagant hype – they put on a full-on show packed with songs that took on new power in the live experience. A new album in 2016 is something to get excited by.
Shark Fin blues
The Best you Can Believe In
The Freedom In The Loot
Six Ways To Sunday
Sitting on The Edge of the Bed Cryin’
– – – – – – –
The Miller’s Daughter
– – – – – –
River of Tears