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Let the record show that there is only one band that can open their set with a song that was voted by a group of their peers as the greatest Australian song of all time. Let it also show that there is only one band that can get away with spitting, swearing and snarling on a stage as prestigious as the Opera House’s; instead treating it like one of the sticky, sweaty pubs the band cut their teeth in a decade and change ago. Furthermore, let it show that there is only one band that can have a drummer return to the fold for the first time in a decade and make it feel as though they never left.
That band, ladies and gentlemen, is The Drones.
As such, a detailed recollection of what occurred here revolves predominantly around these three points. We start – as they did – with Shark Fin Blues. It still sounds as bold, as defiant and as unwieldy as it did the first time you encountered it. The guitar still shrieks and seethes, the vocals still leap from whispers into screams and those bloody “na-na-nas” still get you every single time. It’s a masterpiece – and so too is the record it comes from; the modern classic that is Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By.
As a reflection on the album’s ten-year anniversary, it takes the lion’s share of the setlist tonight. It’s a joy to hear Baby2 again after so many years between drinks, and the way it’s performed leaves one at a loss as to why they don’t wheel it out more often. A sizzling Sittin’ on the Edge of the Bed Cryin’ and a dazzling This Time also serve as set highlights.
Onto the second point: The Drones are The Drones are The Drones. That is to say, you can take the noisy pub band out of the noisy pubs, but you can’t take the noisy pubs out of the noisy pub band. Gareth Liddiard is all drawling charm and off-hand remarks, not letting the impact of performing in such a place dare shake him.
After all, it’s not their first rodeo – the band headlined here once before back in 2013; and are no strangers to the more quote-unquote “cultured” events Australia has to offer. Besides, who’d let that get to them when there are pedals to be stomped and guitars to shake the life out of?
Lastly, full credit has to go to new/old drummer Christian Strybosch. After initially leaving the fold in 2004, he returned last year to replace Mike Noga and has settled back into his position with ease. There’s a rush that one gets from him powering through songs he was a part of all those years ago, including the seldom-played title track to The Miller’s Daughter and an even-rarer Six Ways to Sunday from their debut LP Here Come the Lies. Liddiard may be the only original member of the band left, but he’s managed to make every single version of The Drones work cohesively. Tonight, naturally, was no exception.
The set closes out with a haunting, sprawled-out River of Tears, the Kev Carmody cover that brought the Opera House to a shuddering silence all those years ago as a part of the Cannot Buy My Soul tribute show. It still brings a chill to the spine, but simultaneously rekindles a love of this band and all that they do.
Image: The Drones @ Sydney Opera House 24/05/15 / Photo By Prudence Upton