Photography by Peter Sharp @ASharperImage
It’s been four years since they’ve come to Australia and 16 since they’ve released anything new, but they’re back and their fans never left.
While many who made it to At The Drive-In’s sold out show on Sunday probably discovered the band through their impact on post-hardcore, they were moshing alongside fans who were there when the band first visited Australia in 2001. Clearly wanting to recreate the energy that At The Drive-In were remembered for, during the show frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala urged everyone to just act 15 again. Not that he had to; the moment the band hit the main riff of their opening song a writhing sea of people opened up front of stage shouting the words to ‘Arcarsenal’ back at Cedric almost as loud as he was, whether they were 20 or 40.
It was going to be a night of nostalgia.
Besides a slight lean towards the heavier side, openers Bad//Dreems didn’t share many similarities with the main act. Yet for an audience of Australian hardcore fans reliving their hardcore memories, what better way to get the nostalgia flowing than a support band playing a heavier reimagination of Australian 80s rock?
Bad//Dreems sounded like what I imagine Nirvana might have sounded like if they had somehow been formed by Paul Kelly and Jimmy Barnes. With the aid of vocalist Ben Marwe’s Peter Garret-like stage presence, the work boots, loose collared shirts, and mid-set beer swigging, Bad//Dreems nailed the pub-rock aesthetic.
— CEDRIC BIXLER ZAVALA (@cedricbixler_) July 24, 2016
As Australiana manifested in alt-rock form, they were a great band to bop along to with a beer clutched firmly in one hand. However, the crowd quickly made it obvious that At The Drive-In were the kind of band you wildly flail your arms to while throwing whatever’s left of your beer up somewhere towards the stage. Cedric was gracious enough to thank the crowd for the free drinks. The sound guy who was surprised with a stray projectile beer can on his mixing console appeared less impressed.
Like their other recent shows, At The Drive-In’s set was almost all Relationship of Command material. A look around the venue during ‘Invalid Litter Dept.’s breakdown proved that if anyone had a problem with this it didn’t show. As the post-hardcore heroes rocked out before a patchwork of dazzling red and white lights, a wave of headbanging spread throughout the theatre. Luckily, unlike their Splendour appearance the previous day, none of the expensive lighting equipment was in Cedric’s attack range, not that this hampered his apparent disregard for the general well being of his self or surrounds. The curly haired frontman was juggling his mic as often as he was singing into it, as he spent half of ‘300 MHz’ abusing one unlucky bass cab and wasted no time revealing that guitar amps are really just springboards for doing scissor kicks off.
Seemingly indulging in some personal nostalgia of their own, At The Drive-In reminded everyone that three fifths of their band were once in The Mars Volta with extended, wah-heavy guitar solos and a few wacky reverse delay interludes. Though this did create a sense of continuity as the band jammed their way into each upcoming song while Cedric got the crowd amped up.
Thank you Sydney!! Such a special show for us. We appreciate you Australia.
— At The Drive-In (@AtTheDriveIn) July 25, 2016
One of these moments became a very emotive, if somewhat esoteric, monologue about reigniting the flame that was At The Drive-In, how that flame was always there, how we all have a brass lighter that was passed down to us from our grandfathers, and how you have to tell your parents that you’re going to travel the world setting houses on fire… I’m pretty sure the metaphor got lost somewhere along the way, but that was all forgotten with the segue into the In/Casino/Out standout ’Napoleon Solo’.
At The Drive-In’s final encore song, all-time favourite ‘One Armed Scissor’, got the crowd back into one last rabid frenzy before the night was over. As the band began to take their leave, Cedric was handed back from a last second stage dive before promising to return again soon with a new record.