A Thousand Mistakes
The Drones’ new live DVD ‘A Thousand Mistakes’ hints at a future of different instruments and weird arrangements, writes AARON CURRAN.
Bands traditionally signal the close of a significant chapter in their career with some kind of retrospective release, whether a greatest hits album or a less conventional collection that looks towards the margins. The Drones have instead released this DVD, A Thousand Mistakes, four-and-a-half hours of live footage shot over the past six years; 39 songs from five albums.
How to be sure that this DVD release marks some kind of end for The Drones, as well as a point of creative rebirth? Well, frontman and chief songwriter Gareth Liddiard has been talking non-stop about it. He recently told M+N that while he’s about to start work on writing the band’s next batch of songs, he’s no longer interested in being a “brutal punk band” and doesn’t even listen to much rock’n’roll, which he memorably called “20th century shit … superpower music”.
The Drones’ prowess as a live band is renowned, so if this DVD was merely a collection of accumulated gig footage then it’d still be well worth a watch. What makes it more compelling, and perhaps more revealing of the band’s future direction, is the inclusion of an intimate, atypical live set filmed early in 2010 in a Fairfield warehouse. (Contrary to the press release, it’s not a “disused warehouse”. Bands regularly rehearse and record there, including Augie March’s Glenn Richards and Drones drummer Mike Noga, whose second solo album The Balladeer Hunter was partly recorded in that space.)
If you saw any of The Drones’ shows during their most recent tour last month, then you’ve had a preview of the “weird arrangements” (Gareth Liddiard’s words) of this Fairfield warehouse segment. It’s easily the DVD’s most distinct and re-playable section, one which has also received a limited edition vinyl release. This is not the quartet’s usual guttural roar. Instead they use plenty of acoustic instruments, such as melodica on ‘Penumbra’ and harmonica on a skeletal ‘Sixteen Straws’.
Liddiard’s delivery is more measured than usual. His vocals rely less on grain and volume, while his and Dan Luscombe’s guitars lean less on squalling overdrive. In fact, the whole band appears composed and focused; listening closely to their companions, and watching for each others’ unspoken cues. The taut precision of the foursome is complemented here by Steve Hesketh (Jet, The Mess Hall), who provides a subtle wash of wraithlike organ and keyboards, accentuating a moody atmosphere that verges on melancholy but is no less gripping for that.
Captured by director/editor Natalie van den Dungen (of Tote doco fame) with handheld cameras in natural light, the footage mostly avoids Dogma/Lars von Trier-style jerkiness, opting instead for a fluid, unhurried approach. The edits cut in stately progression from band to their equipment (there are lots of abstract shots of roadcases, amps, microphones) and the warehouse they’re in. The windows behind them are lit with bright summer sun that fades and reddens over the course of the set.
For fans of the Drones’ more strident sound, the first disc of the DVD closes with a very different show from last year, this time shot in black-and-white at the East Brunswick Club; a more traditional set containing crowd favourites like ‘Jezabel’, ‘The Minotaur’ and ‘Sharkfin Blues’. If you want noise, look no further than an extended caterwauling workout of ‘The Miller’s Daughter’, or blistering show-closer ‘I Don’t Ever Want to Change’.
The second disc is a jumble of different stuff – from early footage shot at The Tote in 2005 featuring the distinctive contribution of ex-guitarist Rui Pereira – to a diverse spread of songs from shows in France, Germany and Sydney. While it’s not as gripping as the first disc, all of it is worth watching, especially their phenomenal take on Kev Carmody’s ‘River of Tears’ shot at Sydney’s State Theatre for the “Cannot Buy My Soul” tribute concert.
I was at that show and this impassioned performance seemed to divide the room [ed – as it did in Brisbane], with some appearing troubled by the band’s fervid intensity and volume, while others (myself included) felt it was easily the highlight of a night dominated by meek, if well-intentioned acoustic troubadours. Watching the footage now – the discomforting candour of Carmody’s lyrics biliously pouring from Liddiard’s mouth and the band’s pulverising power – it’s difficult not to see it as anything less than an exhilarating moment of Australian music history.
Exactly where The Drones go from here is unsure, perhaps to the band themselves as much as their listeners. But “weird arrangements” suit them and – on the strength of the varied approaches on display across the generous duration of this excellent DVD – it’s clear the band’s exceptional capabilities aren't even close to being capped.