At The Drive In's enormous punk rock still connects after all these years
When a band is gone for so long, sometimes we, as fans, re-engage with them with a sense of trepidation.
Two huge questions loom when revisiting an old favourite. Are they going to live up to the quality of their former selves? And were they really that good to begin with?
For a band like At The Drive In, it’s even more pronounced.
In 2001, weeks before they spectacularly imploded, they toured Australia with a reputation as the most exciting live band in the world. Fans who saw those sets – most of which were at the Big Day Out, one of which was particularly infamous – raved about them. Those of us who couldn’t be there felt like we’d missed something
At The Drive In’s first ever Brisbane club show was a lot of fans’ first chance to see the band perform (they’ve played Splendour In The Grass twice since their 2001 split). While they’re not the same band they were 17 years ago, they still didn’t disappoint. They offered us bruising rock’n’roll, executed with utter precision.
When you have an opening song as strong as ‘Arcarsenal’ in your canon, you’d be crazy to ever open with anything else. It was a suitably energising way to kick off their set, with both band and crowd erupting when it kicked in.
Given the band were so renowned for their physically frantic live performance style, it’s interesting to see how that has evolved now that they are older.
While Cedric Bixler-Zavala is not as wiry as he was as a 20-something, his enthusiasm hasn’t waned. He threw himself across the stage and into the crowd with abandon and delivered each line with as much passion as ever.
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is far more restrained, but still draws some of the most unique, otherworldly sounds from his guitar, noises that threaten to blow out into wild blasts of noise but are always kept in check.
The songs from the band’s breakthrough third album, 2000’s Relationship Of Command, all hit as strong as ever.
In 2017, At The Drive In combine the proficiency of an arena rock band with the furious energy of their punk rock roots.
There are a few moments on that record that will inject an intense jolt of energy into any At The Drive In fan.
Like when Omar’s guitar kicks in during ‘Invalid Litter Dept.’, the snare snaps before the chorus of ‘Enfilade’, the bass rumble that pre-empts the fury of ‘Arcarsenal’ and the way Cedric manically spits the verses of ‘Sleepwalker Capsules’.
Live, after all these years, they still incite flailing fists and group sing-alongs.
This year’s in•ter a•li•a is not as good a record as Relationship Of Command, but its best tracks – like the pummelling prog-noise of ‘Governed By Contagions’ – were a welcome addition to the set.
As long as he’s not there, founding guitarist and vocalist Jim Ward will always be missed. But his Sparta bandmate Keeley Davis is a more than worthy replacement both on guitar and those distinct backing vocals.
Sad as Ward’s absence is, it's not enough reason to sour the new At The Drive In for most fans.
At The Drive In return to active duty as a big band. A band with a huge following, a band whose members have dabbled with life as a quasi-arena rock band, and a band with both the budget and the passion to make everything a little larger than life.
This was most evident in their lighting. Throughout their set, the immense light show practically seemed like a sixth member of the band. Its precise blasts of colour accentuated the band’s biggest moments and took the spectacle to a whole new level.
Coupled with the pummelling precision of the band, this seared a lasting impression on the devoted crowd and made sure we wouldn’t forget about At The Drive In, no matter how long it takes for them to visit again.
In 2017, At The Drive In combine the proficiency of an arena rock band with the furious energy of their punk rock roots. They might not be the world-saving rock band we once held them up to be, but they’re still bringing us something truly thrilling.