Wizards of Oz

The Drones, live at T. T. the Bear's Place, March 29, 2009
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  March 30, 2009

VIDEO: The Drones live at South by Southwest

Seeing Australian musicians in North America is like seeing stars in the night sky: their light has traveled so far for so long that you're getting just a ghost of the original.

It was a wet Sunday night, and as I stood opposite stage left on T.T.'s roomy, uncrowded dance floor and my ears were assaulted by the spiky squall of the Drones' twin-ax attack, this spectral analogy came to mind, and I thought further about the tincture of isolated longing that always seems essential to the music of even the most chipper Aussie exports. The Drones follow a long line of prickly compatriots whose music tethers salvation, sin, and armageddon to the one balloon and lets it fly wherever it may. Drummer Michael Noga and bassist Fiona Kitchin trudge through each tune with a water-treading inevitability that on its own might sound plodding and morose. Within the complex architecture of the Drones' material, however, each bass plunk, each cymbal wash, feels foundational.

The set leaned heavily on their 2008 Havilah (ATP), with obligatory "let's bring it down" moments inserted to showcase the strained vocalizations of singer/guitarist Gareth Liddiard, a skinny bearded man wearing pointy leather dress shoes who sounded like David Johansen with a particularly stifling head cold. But the real star of the show was the series of lengthy guitar excursions played by Liddiard and recent addition Dan Luscombe — mid song, the two would detonate the band's sound into a fireball of echoing phantasmagoria, like twin screaming firebirds chasing each other's tails far and away into the stratosphere. And though I'm sure the sheer thrill of the band's attack spreads its wings more naturally across European festival stages and the staggering throngs of their Melbourne home-town gigs, it was still a charge to see them clamor and clang with such fury in front of that same old cityscape painting that still adorns the back wall of the T.T.'s stage. Kind of like spotting a peacock hanging out in your living room.

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