27th April 2013
On the ground of Bennelong Point, named after Woollarawarre Bennelong of the Eora people, inside the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, The Drones performed their classic cover of aboriginal folk singer Kev Carmody’s River of Tears:
A Marrickville brother under legal cover / In his home they gunned him down
Sad river of tears / Two hundred years
This poignant moment marked the beginning of the concert’s long climax, at nine songs in, but with still four more to go, including the rousing encore of the crowd favourite Shark Fin Blues and Why Write A Letter That You’ll Never Send.
The band began the night with the opening two tracks from their new album, I See Seaweed, and it was clear from the beginning that lead singer Gareth Liddiard was putting everything into this show. The Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House is a strange venue for a rock band like The Drones, although understandably this concert was billed as a “career highlight”. On one front, it’s nice for an ageing reviewer like myself to spend the whole time sitting down with a good view, rather than in a crowded pub, with sore legs and struggling to see. However, it is difficult for the atmosphere and energy to transfer from the stage to a seated crowd.
In this case, the band’s energy was more than enough to carry the night, and the result was a tingling edge-of-my-seat experience, torn between seated, fixated admiration and a desire to get up and start jumping.
The set-list contained a good mix of songs from the new album and the prior two, in addition to the Carmody cover, which had me in tears. With her back to the crowd, except when providing backing vocals, Fiona Kitschin wielded her bass powerfully, holding the other guitarists in check, while Mike Noga’s drumming set pace for the songs’ shifting and uncommon time signatures. Steve Hesketh’s keyboards were unobtrusive and more evident in some songs than others.
The true power of The Drones is in the politically-tinged songwriting and in Liddiard’s sardonic voice. On the new album, in How To See Through Fog,
And they only ever treat you well / When you’re nothing but a church bell
And they only ever think you’re good / When you’re walking like you’re made of wood
After thirteen songs, the crowd still wanted more, in testament to the power of this band and their music, particularly in a live setting. I left the venue speechless.