Well I fried some bananas and then went downtown to see The Drones. I’d been thinking all day about this one lyric “You came here on a boat you fucking cunt”. When I showed my french housemate who The Drones were I played her that one song, from “Taman Shud”. After about sixteen seconds she said through her lipstick and accent, “I can see already they are good”. And that is how it happens with all ‘good’ music – people who ‘know’ only need a few seconds to know. When Joe Alexander who runs Bedroom Suck Records was watching Peter Bibby for the first time though it took him several songs in, in fact ‘til Pete did that one song about Australia/Straya where the whole crowd was whipped into a confused and then riotous fever by the same spirit of “You came here on a boat you fucken’ cunt”, that he realised why Pete was special. What do bananas and Peter Bibby and refugees on fire all have to do with The Drones playing at Rosemount? Plenty.
So I was frying some bananas for dinner before The Drones show. I was doing them the way my friend’s African drug dealer in Paris, who’s name means liberty, did them. In France if you rock up unannounced and then declare yourself as a refugee they are not allowed to lock you straight into prison, so this free man without papers was frying up bananas in a Parisian apartment for me and my friend.
And I was here in Fremantle frying bananas his way – just in oil in thick rounds in a very hot pan, while Nick and Tayo made dubby music in the other room. When we visited the Fremantle prison on band camp in high school, all my friends laughed and made jokes about ‘garotting’, but I as the perpetually serious one burned against them with the words “These were REAL PEOPLE” making the whites of my eyes tattooed and bloodshot in the spirit realms.
What was Gareth Liddiard like in high school? Did he laugh with the garotters or was he already burning up at any mention of injustice, but already mainly impotent except in words? Well, as the bananas fried I kept thinking about what I’d said to Eva the night before, “I feel like The Drones are sort of the only important band in Australia,” and was thinking just three songs are needed for our country right now: ‘Taman Shud’, ‘Treaty’ by Yothu Yindi, and ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly. Love songs have some place somewhere in the landscape, but right now mainly it feels beside the point.
So I fried the bananas and went to the show. At first I wasn’t allowed in due to some miscommunication, and I stood at the entrance shifting my weight from foot to foot, looking at my phone, looking at the door people doing their job, looking at my phone. I could hear Ben playing, all great but all thin from far off. I just had to imagine everyone getting into it, new fans I assumed would be created, until they let me burst into the scene for the last song and some guy absolutely wild on either music or some highly effective upper/outer was emphatically with his whole body and heaps of fast words exclaiming the injustice of Ben, James, Marc and Brett not getting to continue for hours more. In the front row was our musical city’s private photographer Amber Bateup, and members of Rag n’ Bone, and of Usurper of Modern Medicine and in the second row members of Shit Narnia and Pat Chow, and Tristan Fidler, always Tristan. We’re always amongst friends now, but what are we going to politically do with it, all this friendship? Just keep on having a good time as people literally burn to be there too? Not at the Rosemount ready to hear Gareth repeat “You came here on a boat,” but somewhere close by with a free bed to sleep in, able to go to the markets in the morning for bananas or listen to the radio even if it’s not Tristan Fidler on RTR, or even watch Masterchef and gradually be able to see things on fire without traumatic memories rushing back in.
I hardly ever get the rush of waiting, waiting for the band to come on and then they come and it’s explosive, but that happened.
I rehearsed in my mind the songs they played in order as they played them, so I could do a blow by blow, but it’s all muddled in now and all I remember is the power of ‘Taman Shud’, maybe two songs in, and hearing voices singing the words all ‘round, but not knowing if it was the crowd or a trick of my acoustic mind or a bunch of angels on fire asking our country to start a riot. That’s what weaved through the whole show, a vision of everyone somehow rising up from apathy to actually break every single thing, set it all on fire until the basic justices are put in place: treaty, free entry for those that need it, someone to answer the fucking phone at Centrelink.
Then there were the songs when the three women came out. Gareth had been the centre-point of all of it ‘til then, your eyes moving to the joyous enthusiasm of Christian the drummer, the impenetrable sheen of Dan the guitarist, never a misplacing a note or tone, the guarded and generous mystery of Fiona the bass player, the cheeky monkey keyboardist Steve, holding in his full weirdness for the music (this is all my wild assumptions of personality), which all together is at certain moments the only thing that matters, the realest and most violent and effective way to change everything, feel everything, and at other times is actually just a band. guitar, bass, guitar, keys, drums and one white man out the front singing about his feelings that he might not say to her face.
So, the three women came out, and I looked upon it with a feminist critique, which is to say, just logic, but knowing there was no critique really here. But just in case, three women, dressed the same, singing with one voice, lit demurely, while the man in the middle strains and stomps across his pedal board and still has the spotlight square on his chest. But this is not a band of patriarchy, this is a band like no/every other, pulling at the strings of a dying country knowing that the strings are attached to something living still, even if there’s only a twitch of movement to prove it.
(I repeat, I am not making a critique of this band and their set up, I was letting my mind wander to the places it goes, where in other contexts the mud sticks, but here the mud is flinging off everywhere, showing some pearl of great price underneath.)
Prove it. Prove we’re not dead. Prove we care that someone’s alight. Prove we care all the coral is bleaching white, the shit white of a colonial past and present.
And in between all that, we do fall in love. I didn’t mean what I said, that it doesn’t matter. Gareth with all the women there singing “To Think That I Once Loved You” made so many tears well and fall. Imagine – everyone knows that thing, that feeling. I cried, I think Tristan cried. The Rag n’ Bones singer and bass player touched hand and shoulder from in front and behind me. The room swelled up, as much as with the violence and fire feeling, but with something different. When the three women sung too it was all a mess sonically, my brain couldn’t take it all in, but for moments when reached that same place of the Shud, wide, deep, motivating and frustrating and tear pulling.
Jimbo the sound man had given us all bottles of water, all the faces he knew from all our own shows, and to the weaker amongst us – me – gave earplugs which I kept taking in and out. It’s a travesty, but I want to hear all this forever if I have the choice. In history class in year 6 our teacher was explaining to us in detail medieval torture methods like ‘hung drawn and quartered’ and I put my fingers in my ears. I didn’t believe we needed to know all of the detail, I knew it wouldn’t help me to know the detail then, so I shoved my pointers in and defied Mr Beeck. We want to hear forever, and really hear, so sometimes we have to wear ear plugs for a few moments.
Whatever, the show was amazing. The next night I discussed with Bibby in the backyard how good or not good we reckon The Drones are, Liddiard’s solo album, instagram etc. and I remembered the car-sized silver flecked bass amp of Fiona, and Gareth’s heaving chest that reminded me of my Polish granddad as a young man, lifting itself up into the lights, the facial expressions of the other three men, and just the same question over and over and over, of how to get everyone to be at least kinda free.