The last time At The Drive In played in Queensland, it was the Big Day Out 2001 on the Gold Coast and 18 year old me missed most of their set. Enamoured as I was with nu-metal at the time, I thought it appropriate to watch all of Mudvayne’s 45 minutes and then run over to the Triple J stage to catch the last 15-30 minutes of the ATDI set. Mudvayne were good, probably, I don’t really recall but I do remember that when I arrived at the tent hosting At The Drive In, vocalist Cedrix Bixler-Zavala was standing on top of an amp cabinet swinging the mic around his head while guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López was doing his frenetic jazz slide from one side of the stage to the other lost in his own world. The noise was deafening, chaotic and unrelenting and by the time it was over, I wasn’t really sure what I had just seen, I just knew that I liked it and that it blew whatever else I was listening to at the time out of the water.
Cut to six months later and ‘Relationship Of Command’ hadn’t left my CD player since the day after Big Day Out, At The Drive-In had broken up and ROC was my number one album of all time – as it remains today. Those songs, from ‘Arcarsenal’ to ‘Non-Zero Possibility’, have their fingerprints all over my formative years and turned me onto to all kinds of different styles of music.
So you can imagine that I head to the Eatons Hill Hotel tonight with a lot of excitement and after stewing for 16 years on what I missed in the first part of the set at Big Day Out, I have a lot riding on this performance and higher than average expectations.
The crowd is packed and excitement is high as support act, Mexican punks Le Butcherettes take the stage and promptly stun the crowd into silence as they slam into their keyboard driven opener, ‘Burn The Scab’. What follows is a case study in theatrical garage rock, something we don’t see too much of. There is something utterly captivating about frontwoman, Teri ‘Gender Bender’ Suarez, as she intermittently sings and screams down the microphone, her arms and legs often flailing and contorting unless otherwise occupied with the keyboard.
Suarez exists somewhere in the Kate Bush/PJ Harvey region of musical theatre and she has that level of daring where you feel that anything can happen and when she straps on a guitar and absolutely wails on it, there’s more than little hint of Anna Calvi going on as well.
It must be sold out or very nearly so in the ballroom tonight. We are packed like sardines at the foot of the stage as the lights dim, Cedric’s afro appears from behind the drum kit, he takes a swig of his tea and shakes a pair of maracas into the mic and drummer, Tony Hajjar begins the ominous tom-heavy beat of built-in opener ‘Arcarsenal’. Omar and Keeley Davis add their squalling guitars with Paul Hinojos filling in the lower end, Cedric screams “I must have read a thousand faces” and we’re off and it’s a don’t even blink situation from here on out. Cedric throws himself, his mic stand and his microphone across stage and bodies start flying around the pit.
It must be difficult to summon the frenetic energy of 20 years ago but it’s almost immediate here. The years are rolled back in the blink of an eye so by the time ‘Pattern Against User’ finds its way onto the setlist, the band is three songs deep on an extensive career spanning show, the frontman has crowd-surfed multiple times and they have the undivided attention of around a thousand baying punters locked in some kind of a late 90s fold in time.
It really is the Cedric show, however, the formerly super energetic Omar seems to be more interested in hitting the right notes than really delivering on the aesthetics his reputation of years past promises. Each track sounds exactly as it should with just the hint of cacophony which gives you the sense things are on the verge of falling apart which adds to the intensity and high emotions of the show.
‘Cosmonaut’ is a huge highlight. With eerie backing music, Cedric delivers some kind of space-age slam poetry and then almost without warning, the riff kicks in and crowd descends into chaos, as it would several times over. The newer tracks from in•ter a•li•a, received an often muted response but were actually the tracks that often translated live the best as, presumably, they were pretty happy to be playing something written this year, as oppose to 17 plus years ago.
The band depart the stage after new panic inducer, ‘Governed By Contagions’ but there’s no way they weren’t coming back to close out the show with the compulsory ‘One Armed Scissor’. And so the crowd is sent flying once more as bodies convulse around the room to the jagged riffs, staccato sci-fi vocals and relentless intensity reach an intense crescendo. At The Drive In aren’t here as a throw-back to an earlier time, they are the hear and now and here’s hoping they hang around this time.
Photos by Dan Maynard