The Drones: Spaceland Presents: The Drones in Spaceland November 15th, 2006
Australia’s best band of the last few years try their hand at a live record.
The Drones’ Dan Luscombe has been keeping a rather entertaining blog about their current tour through Europe, playing 54 shows in two and a half months. The blog deals with the poverty, frustration, and weariness that comes with being a small-scale band on a tour abroad. One entry includes a picture of one Greco-Roman wrestler pinning another to the floor. The caption reads, "The Drones Vs. The Music Business (Drones on bottom)".
Such is the plight of the Drones, a talented band without the support of the industry. Their last studio album, Gala Mill, waited a year and a half after being recorded for its 2006 release. Their last four albums released in Australia were on four different record labels, and Live in Spaceland is available only on import. It’s a small-scale release, one of a series of live recordings at Los Angeles bar Spaceland. So small-scale that the cover features a photo of Rui Pereira, the guitarist who left the band several months before the show was recorded.
Live albums are usually cynical cash-ins or an effort to capture a band’s energy that doesn’t come through in the studio. Live in Spaceland isn’t really either of those. In fact, the Drones' studio sound is so unhinged and visceral that at times it feels that this live recording is really taking a step back. So why bother releasing this album? Judging by Luscombe’s blog, it seems that the main reason is that the Drones are desperate to get the music out any way that they can.
The album is actually a real sign that the Drones' studio work is incredibly raw: searing blends of blues, folk, and post-punk. The angular guitars and Gareth Liddiard’s emotion-ridden vocals helped make 2005’s Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By nothing short of brilliant, despite sounding like it was recorded in a kitchen in an hour or so.
Live in Spaceland was performed without a setlist, allowing the band to shake off some rarities without feeling obliged to play the crowd favourites. Fortunately, they wisely decide to play the two best songs from Wait Long by the River, "Sharkfin Blues" and "This Time", back to back, and while the versions are inferior to the original recordings, they do manage to pull them off well. The only other track they play from that album is "Sitting on the End of the Bed Crying", a song with a long, sparse introduction that isn’t well suited as an opener. It is well-performed, but not a wise opening track.
The best rendition on the album is the rarity "She Had an Abortion That She made me Pay For", a song that hasn’t previously appeared on a studio album. Its fast and jagged punk style would have been a much better opener.
There are three tracks on Gala Mill that bring that album down. Too slow, long and dull, they soon drag on the listener’s patience, taking the album down from a particularly good album to a bloated EP. Mysteriously, the Drones choose to play all three of those songs at this show. They are good enough as background music, but not exciting in any way. It takes the band’s strongest rocking material, "I Don’t Ever Want to Change", to recover the audience’s attention.
The show wraps up with the lumbering "The Miller’s Daughter", a rarity that wouldn’t be out of place on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Murder Ballads, and the marvellously mutated version of Chuck Berry’s "The Downbound Train". The tracks wrap up a fairly unspectacular album well. The Drones are tightly rehearsed from intensive touring, but are weary and the music sometimes sounds forced. It’s a noble attempt at a live album, but not recorded with the strongest material, or when the Drones are at their best. This album really should be the last Drones record you buy, rather than the first.