At The Drive In @ Eatons Hill

Do they still have it?

Texan punk legends At The Drive In have returned to Australia for their second trip in two years but only the third time in their history. Before we get to them though there is a set from Mexican band Le Butcherettes, who make an attention grabbing entrance with the sound of just shoes stomped on the sage and an unamplified voice.

It’s interesting that the band set up all at the front of stage with no drum riser and singer Teri Gender Bender on the right of stage, because she is undoubtedly the centre of attention both musically and visually. She changes between keys and guitar but is equally theatrical on both, at times convulsing frantically with one arm while the other plays the keyboard. Musically it reminds me of PJ Harvey; especially Ms Gender Bender’s singing style. I would assume the songs are new to almost everyone in the audience (the between song chatting in Spanish doesn’t shed much light for most of us), but to be honest the most memorable thing about Le Butcherettes is the atmosphere created by the dynamics and visual power of the live show. I’m not sure how the could replicate that on record.

Sixteen and a half years ago, when At The Drive In first came to Australia, they distinguished themselves by berating the Sydney Big Day Out crowd for slam daning, then walking off stage 15 minutes into their set. Later that night Jessica Michalik was crushed to death in the mosh pit.

At The Drive In have probably chilled out a bit since then, but then so have their audience, who pretty much universally tonight are old enough to have been at that Big Day Out.

Singer Cedic Bixler does his best to maintain the ferocious energy the band was famous for back then – he enters the stage and immediately starts swinging the mic stand around, stage diveing into the crowd. The audience responds, and the sound of the Eatons Hill PA is actually dwarfed by the room of applause after the first few songs. The energy doesn't quite last through the night though; Cedric has to retire to the back of the stage a few times to catch his breath, and the crowd doesn't quite warm to songs from the new album Interalia as much as the classics. You can hardly hold it against At The Drive In - no one wants to be a touring nostalgia act, but can anybody name a reunion album in the history of rock'n'roll that has actually been good?

Thus the set gets a bit lost in the middle there, but comes back to life as the band returns to Relationship Of Command; that extraordinary album that took post-hardcore into the mainstream at the turn of the century. Invalid Litter Dept. begins to a roar of approval, and I get goosebumps on my arm. But there's something incongruous about it all - the band are right in front of me, yet its the memory of myself as a teenager seeing the song on rage that is the powerful feeling here. Maybe I'm the only one who feels like that, but I can't help but think that maybe everyone in the room is struggling to recapture the zeitgeist of that time.

The night closes with an encore of One Armed Scissor. It's a singalong moment, but to be honest its a bit tired and flat sounding. At The Drive In were an extraordinary band - the kind of band that could change lives. But the thing is, in the decade and a half since those days, that's just what all our lives have done.

Andy Paine

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