Like an episode of ‘Beauty and the Geek’, Harmony provide a strange display of when opposites attract and evidently clash – the difference being that Harmony are genuinely entertaining and thankfully absent of nightclub promoters posing as geeks. Half punk band, half gospel-trio, the Melbourne six-piece opened the first show of The Drones’ national tour with nothing less than a stylistic melting pot. At times they were pop, at times they were white-girl soul, at times they were punk and at times they even edged towards psychedelia – proving to be as cool as it was unusual. But if it works, it works. And that it did.
The HiFi was pretty much full by the end of Harmony’s set. I feel that the noticeable absence of gig-smashing and usually hawaiian-shirted pingers should not go unmentioned, as this provided a positive insight into the audience that night. They were respectful, contained, and essentially there to see the band they paid to see – with or without being wasted. But enough about the crowd. More to the point, Gareth Liddiard.
The Drones opened with I See Seaweed, the title track of their most recent LP. Liddiard delivered his vocals with such conviction that it became personal – transporting the generally wide-eyed audience to places far darker and distant than the HiFi. With the exception of backing vocals, bassist Fiona Kitschin seldom faced the audience – in stead lending her attention to drummer Mike Noga. Together they led an impenetrable rhythm section which served as a testament to The Drones’ experience and monument as a live band in Melbourne.
The guitars of Liddiard and Dan Luscombe intertwined perfectly – so much so that it was at times hard to distinguish exactly how many guitars were comprising the gigantic, reverberating and totally immersive wall of noise. Luscombe’s enviable skill was emphasised through the seeming ease at which he played otherwise complex guitar parts. Many of the tracks crept in and out with the help of Steve Hesketh’s eerie keys, all the while accompanied by brilliant sound production.
They played a mixed set – featuring tracks from their previous albums Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By and Gala Mill, as well as more recent tracks from I See Seaweed. While the audience were predominantly immobile, songs including Shark Fin Blues and I Don’t Ever Want to Change emerged as evident crowd favorites. The set was briefly interrupted by Liddiard’s response to a fan request – which saw the band (yes – The Drones) play the chorus to Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive. This brief derailment caused a small ripple of whispers among the crowd.
A particularly touching rendition of Why Write a Letter That You’ll Never Send and Down Bound Train comprised the encore. Harmony then returned to the stage to join The Drones for the final song – a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Diamonds In The Mine. Liddiard’s rough vocals were strangely and yet fittingly complemented by Harmony’s choir-esque vocal trio, with the frontmen of both bands sharing the mic. The song, which is primarily about loss and futility, was performed with an ironic sense of warmth. One was left to speculate whether Liddiard’s choice of Diamonds In The Mine; a beautified, poetic, song-length statement that “everything is f*!#ed” – was of any topical nature.
Regardless, it was a pleasant end to a set which was as dirty as it was tight, as professional as it was passionate, and as inclusive as it was personal. In other words, Friday’s show served as a clear reminder of why The Drones are one of Melbourne’s most consistent and respected bands.