THE DRONES
+ THE DOUBLE AGENTS
+ TIGER BY THE TAIL
The Tote, Melbourne
March 24, 2006


Words by TJ HONEYSUCKLE
(sadly, no longer germ free or adolescent)
Pictures by JULIAN WU
(thanks again J.)


It’s a relief to get out of St Kilda & head over to Collingwood. Not only is this a killer triple bill, and at the Tote, but Collingwood is one part of Melbourne that’s a Commonwealth Games-free zone. I’ve spent the past two weeks being harassed by helicopters, marathon runners, TV crews, tourists & errant Sierra Leonans looking for a place to hide out. Too bad there isn’t a Games event that involves running down an alley with a stolen DVD player under your arm; the locals here would be a sure bet for gold.

Let’s duck indoors and inhale deeply. Mmm- the Tote. Tim’s sweat, Phillipa’s perfume.

Dave Thomas newest post-Bored! lineup, Tiger by The Tail is a bit of a scratch band, but hey, they’ve  done 20 or so shows, and come across as much more confident and polished than that might suggest.  The songs have strong strains of classic DNA running all through ‘em, like the nod to “Marquee Moon” in the riff underpinning “Old Habits” and “Generator”s unprovoked assault on the cast of “Walk On The Wild Side”. The twin guitar workouts rise and fall in endless crescendo live, but it’s on their (self-titled, limited self-issue) CD that these tunes really reveal themselves. There’s an air of…what…restraint? Broodiness? Let’s call it a feeling of energies that are best expelled, being held back, apparent here.

The CD, by the way,  is a shiny and malevolent beast, akin to “Distemper” or “Trouble In Providence”, writhing and sweating, baring sharp fangs when you least expect it. Subject matter brought to light includes cops, social workers, disease, hospitals & gin. The closing track “Julianne” is the sound of a very disturbed young man mentally ticking off the list of what he’ll need (gaffertape, blindfold, deserted warehouse, and knife) for the evening he has planned with the young lady in question. Melbournians can hit Missing Link orGreville Records for a copy, out-of-towners should send a polite email to tigerbythetail@aanet.com.au. Do it now, and grab one for $15.00, rather than wait months and end up paying big bucks for an import copy of the forthcoming European release.

Tiger By The Tail close drenched in sweat, amid a screeching roar of feedback. You would expect nothing less.

The Double Agents’ spot on the bill is a better fit than their recent early Birdman support slot. There is a bigger crowd here to listen, for starters. Some of the local street press/ad rags tried to make a story out of supposed rivalry between the Agents & the Drones, but from the way the two bands end up watching each other from the wings, it’s clear that this is bullshit. (More troubling are rumors of personal issues within the band.) Tracks from “Friends In Low Places” make up barely half the set tonight, which seem weighted more to newer country flavored or slower-paced numbers. The zip-level grunt of “Action Swing” hits the spot, but they seem somehow distracted, and the crowd seems restless. One of those nights when the middle order can’t win. Their headliner at the Espy on 8 April should be a sure bet, though.

By now the Tote is full- really full- and the traditional heatbox effect is in full swing. Standing at the doorway to the beer garden you have a choice- breathing hot sticky beer laden air laced with tobacco smoke from inside, or hot sticky beer laden air laced with dope smoke from outside. For a drug-free, non-smoking teetotaler like me, it is a living hell. Or not.

The Drones come on to a welcoming cheer. It's good to see there's no backlash for their recent success- album of the year on so many people's 2005 lists, , the long (& successful) overseas tour, that AMP prize appearing on Channel 9’s Commonwealth Games coverage at 9.00am with Richard Wilkins & Patti Newton...

The first time I saw them here, a couple of years back, they were an urgent scrabbling rocky
bluesy band, whose set hit a peak (for me) during their frantic cover of “New Kind Of Kick”. Oh yeah. They have changed, but not for the worse, and certainly not for the weaker. I guess spending a year playing your tunes all over everywhere and coming up trumps will do that for you. Certainly, when I chat to Rui about tour shock, he shrugs it off, then, true to his word, goes onstage and rides shotgun on a hometown crowd without blinking.

Live, more than is evident on the “Wait Long” album, they combine elements of blues & 60s punk with early Sonic Youth-style noise. The guitar grunt intro of “You Really Don’t Care” is pure Nuggets style rave up, continuing through to the spat-out screeched-out vocals, and shredded guitar finale.

I don’t know what anyone expects from them tonight- hits? but they deliver.

Liddiard wears his red Fender way low, by the way, way too low, on a long loose strap that never seems to actually take any weight – because the instrument is always in his hands, being swung and wrung and cajoled and finally whacked into line. The exception to this violent , blatant guitar abuse is during “Locusts”, when everyone leaves the stage except Gareth, who sings it alone, to his own odd discordant accompaniment…and the crowd shuts up for three golden poised minutes.

Look, these guys are operating at an intensity, both musically and physically, that is probably unsustainable for long. Go and see them before they splinter.

 

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