Teri Gender Bender knows how to make an entrance. That’s quite literal in this instance – as her bandmates move to their respective stations, she is stomping her high heels and singing in Spanish. Unaccompanied. Unamplified. It takes a second for the initial cheer to die down for people to understand what is happening. When they do, they’re stunned into a mesmerised silence. As if it were nothing, Teri immediately stabs at her keyboard as the rhythm section kicks into a dizzying groove. She is at the helm of Le Butcherettes, hailing from Guadalajara in the west of Mexico, who have a long-running tie with the Rodriguez-Lopez family. That’s Riko on bass, guitar and synths on stage left; locking into the thwacking, thudding drums and accentuating the ripe fruit of that particular family tree. Picture the fearlessness of Patti Smith and PJ Harvey infused with the fiery experimentation of Can and the unbridled ferocity of X-Ray Spex; you’re getting somewhat close, but even then there’s elements of what the band does that renders them nearly unclassifiable entirely. It doesn’t sit well with some of the more conservative arm-folders scattered among the early arrivals – a loud, clear boo rings out at one stage. Thankfully, said boo-ers are quickly told to jog on, and rightly so – there’s absolutely no room for squares when there’s weird, wonderful shapes to be thrown.
At their first Sydney show in 15 years, At the Drive-In put on one of the single greatest shows of 2016. It was something most people never thought they would ever get to see, and the reality of the band’s name being spoken of in the present tense still didn’t feel real right up to the opening maracas of ‘Arcarsenal’. It’s worth noting the show was at a very sold-out Enmore Theatre, meaning there was clear enough demand for a return run of shows. Alas, the risk of upgrading from an already sizable venue means it’s double or nothing – and, prior to the band’s starting, the Hordern Pavilion had rarely felt more cavernous and empty. Still, there’s a surge to the middle upon those very same maracas shaking us from our slumber, and ‘Arcarsenal’ sends the audience into an absolute frenzy yet again. The numbers may be small in the scheme of things, but there’s enough singing, dancing and moshing to raise the energy to the equivalent of that fateful Enmore show not one year ago.
The key difference comes in the form of new material being performed, something that not many were anticipating and not all responded kindly to upon in•ter a•li•a’s May release. Even so, the audience responds well to cuts like ‘No Wolf Like the Present’ and ‘Hostage Stamps’, while ‘Governed by Contagions’ even elicits a sing-along on par with what Relationship of Command receives. Frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala is lively as always, making his way into the throes of the crowd more than once and getting lost in the moment of theatrical grandeur. To his right, new guitarist Keeley Davis has very comfortably filled the Jim Ward role and created enough space to make his own presence felt as a performer in his own right. Collectively, it really feels as though At the Drive-In makes sense to do again – there’s a timelessness to their earlier songs and a vitality to the new that brings a cohesion that befell their untimely 2012 run and gives the band the second chance they so rightfully deserved. A blistering ‘One Arm Scissor’ finale all but cements this.