You know it’s going to be a stellar Drones show when Gareth Liddiard drops the F-bomb only minutes into the first song.
The lead singer spits out the well-placed expletive amid the driving guitar riff and clashing cymbals of “I See Seaweed”, the title track of the band’s most recent release. As they thrash out the set opener with a purposeful ferocity to meet Liddiard’s powerful, profanity-laced lyrics, it’s clear that the nation’s best live band are going to match their reputation tonight.
Now a five-piece with the recruitment of Steve Hesketh, many fans might have been concerned that the addition of a keyboardist on I Sea Seaweed heralded a move towards a softer, slower direction for the band.
They needn’t have worried. Hesketh’s work lends a brooding, cinematic element to a set heavy with material from the new LP. The keys, along with some more-adventurous-than-usual effects via the mixing desk, have added an extra dimension to the band’s already formidable sound. The Drones have elevated themselves from a clever pub-rock band to diverse, dynamic raconteurs, and may well be at the peak of their powers.
As the first sparse, tinkling bars of “How To See Through Fog” echo out from the black stage and float up to the high Forum ceiling, a great song is made even more commanding in the flesh. The barely suppressed rancour that characterises their latest album is to permeate the evening, building a perfect atmosphere for a band who seem to thrive on their own intensity.
“The Minotaur”, one of the more ominous tracks from 2008’s Havilah, is a fearsome beast brought to life. Mike Noga’s burly drums crest over Liddiard’s vehement shrieks, as the song punctuates a set that goes on to dole out I Sea Seaweed in near-chronological order.
“A Moat That You Can Stand In” is set alight by Dan Luscombe’s furiously flawless guitar riffs and the frenetic crashing of Noga’s drums. The exquisite “Nine Eyes” then thunders along to Fiona Kitschin’s torpid bassline. An absolutely galloping rendition of “I Don’t Ever Want To Change” charges the entire venue with energy and rounds out what is perhaps the apex of the night.
Noga’s emphatic drumming is a definite driving force behind The Drones’ monumental live sound. The decibel levels mirror Liddiard’s trademark vitriol, which spews out in torrents (“What kind of asshole / drives this lime green Commodore”, he growls with apparent relish during “Nine Eyes”).
On this particular night, Liddiard is egged on by the amount of liquor he’s swilling between songs. Wrestling with his low slung guitar, he unleashes his words as though splashes of venom hurled in time with the sonic cataclysm behind him.
His lyrics outshine the most eloquent of Australian poets, although there’s plenty of dry wit peppered throughout the cynicism. “This is a song about dogs”, he drawls – “d-o-w-g-z”, before launching into a marching, haunting version of “Laika”. (The slurred “you’re boring” he directs at the crowd just before “Nine Lives” is not quite so well received).
An impromptu rendition of John Williams’ classic Jaws theme gives the game away for the encore, as Liddiard quips “Don’t worry, no one goes to the beach in Victoria – if we’d done that in Perth everyone would have left.” Yes, it’s crowd favourite “Shark Fin Blues”.
The monumental “Why Write A Letter That You’ll Never Send” closes out the evening. There have been some notable omissions (tracks like “Jezebel”, “I’m Here Now” and “Nail It Down” hang in the air like unanswered questions), but The Drones have thrashed their instruments and themselves to within an inch of their lives by working through the bulk of I Sea Seaweed with burning focus.
They’ve delivered a throttled, theatrical rock odyssey – a superb performance that passes by all too quickly.