Published on May 19th, 2006 | by The Beige Baron0
If you like your live-music venues well-worn, you’d be in your element at The Tote. Here, amid flaking paint and low ceilings, you fancy that music from gigs past has seeped into the walls (something’s definitely seeped into the carpets, anyway). It ain’t glamorous, The Tote, but it’s got character – and it’s just the setting for the down-and-dirty cocktail of rock, country, and blues that is The Drones.
No disrespect to Love of Diagrams, who played an energetic set, but it was only when The Drones came on stage that The Tote’s beergarden emptied. You could almost feel the crowd stand straighter and become more attentive when The Drones slid into the footstomping rhythm and crunching guitars of Hell and Haydevils from their album, Here Come the Lies.
In the confines of The Tote, the four-piece band generated a mountain of sound, even though frontman Gareth Liddiard was hoarse due to a bout of laryngitis. There may have been an extra rasp to Liddiard’s vocals, but it didn’t seem to matter. And anyway, if ever there’s been a group whose music isn’t about the niceties of execution or delivery, it’s The Drones – they leave such daintiness to other, more domesticated bands.
After boxing the audience around the ears with Hell and Haydevils, the band played a succession of new numbers. Most of this material will presumably feature on The Drones’ new album, which is scheduled for release in February. It all seemed to go over well with the audience.
Unfortunately, despite shouted requests from the crowd, Liddiard’s laryngitis meant that the aural assault called Dekalb Blues, an old Leadbelly song, wasn’t on the agenda. Instead Liddiard gave his vocal chords some welcome relief when he invited James McCann, from Sydney band the Lowdorados, on stage to take over lead vocals for a song. Hearing McCann fronting The Drones was, without doubt, the strangest moment of the night, as Liddiard’s voice and the band’s sound have always seemed indivisible. All in all, it worked surprisingly well – although McCann modestly jumped back into the audience before the band had even completed the number.
A feature of The Drones’ set was the guitarwork of Liddiard and Rui Pereira. At times they twitched like marionettes as they played, hands blurring. One fan couldn’t get enough of this action. Clad in a fetching footy-shorts-and-singlet ensemble, he leaned with both palms flat on the stage as he eyeballed their guitarwork. (He was so close that when Liddiard dropped a guitar pick midsong the fan reached over and returned it to him.)
Another highlight was the band’s rendition of The Cock-Eyed Lowlife of the Highlands. During this song, Pereira coaxed his guitar into making sirenlike whoops, while Liddiard completed 90% of an impressive backward roll (scoring 9.85 from the Romanian judge), none of which, surprisingly, seemed to impair his guitar-playing ability.
The set wound up with a gobsmackingly good cover of a Neil Young song: Cortez the Killer. I haven’t heard Young’s version, but I can say the song kicks arse when The Drones play it – you just don’t want it to end.
An apt summary of the entire set.
— Hans Fruck