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As frontman of The Drones, Gareth Liddiard narrated his way through the title track of their latest album I See Seaweed on The Hi-Fi Melbourne stage, you could tell by the look in his eyes, the veins in his neck, and the inflection in his voice that this band’s art is a deeply personal affair. Like a rugged landscape, The Drones’ music ebbs and flows between lighter melodies and darker verses, and Liddiard was front and centre in the midst of it all.
Drummer Mike Noga worked the rhythm section with Fiona Kitschin–three different drumming techniques used in just the opening stanza. Mallets, brushes, and sticks were each used to different effect and executed with surgeon-like precision. The haunting, Nick Cave-like piano introduction to How To See Through Fog emerged and soon you were trapped in the whirlwind of sounds emanating from the stage.
For the past decade, The Drones have cemented their place in Australian musical folklore by perfecting the art of making dramatic music, pitted against complex lyrical themes. And that decade spent at the peak of their game was well and truly on display at The Hi-Fi, Friday night.
“Dead Or Alive!” one drunken, confused punter yelled out from the back. Liddiard engaged in some brief banter with the audience, before fan favourites The Minotaur, Locust and Shark Fin Blues allowed the brigade of older fans to revel once more in classic Drones material. More than a touch of influence from Joe Strummer and perhaps Bruce Springsteen, Liddiard’s poses and stage presence was that of the ultimate frontman, while still maintaining a level of modesty that allowed the rest of the band to shine throughout.
“Dead Or Alive!” the drunken punter again shouted. This time, Liddiard teased the crowd in good humour by swiftly belting out the chorus of the famous Bon Jovi hit. The rest of the band joined in and the audience enjoyed a rare light-hearted moment from a band whose seriousness is one of their key character traits.
Kitschin, barefoot and often with her back to the audience, prefered to feel the groove of Noga on drums, turning around every so often to complete her backing vocal duties. Guitarist Dan Luscombe meanwhile, reeled off impeccable and stunning guitar work, not least on Laika and the wondrous encore performance of Why Write a Letter That You’ll Never Send.
While the amazing A Moat You Can Stand In was unfortunately not given an airing, a fitting conclusion came about with the set closer: a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Diamonds in the Mine, featuring the triple vocal treat of support act Harmony, as well as a menagerie of musicians on stage. It was a treat for the ears and a visual spectacular.
The Drones have never failed to live up to expectations, even when they keep a few songs hidden from view. Their Melbourne gig showed that whilst they might not be the most commercially successful Australian act, they certainly draw a level of respect from audiences all-round, as well as from their peers.