The enigma that is Drugdealer, is a true ode to the gems of the 1970s. The brainchild of Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist and composer Michael Collins. I was a fan of Collins previous project Silk Rhodes, with it’s focus on groovy delicate soul, and was extremely keen to catch the larger folk rock end of his mind in Drugdealer. The Corner Hotel, a classic venue in Richmond, was packed with Lennon-esq young men on Thursday night, eager to step back to the seventies for a night of classic yacht rock and groovy balladry.
One could accidentally assume Drugdealer to be peers of Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Looking Glass or Bill Withers, but you’d be surprised to find release dates in the mid to late 2010s. And the best part of this: the band knows it, and we’re all invited to be in on the joke. This made for a night that was equally musically joyous and hilarious.
Opening for the band was Tex Crick, an Aussie singer-songwriter and keyboard player, and recent entry to Mac Demarco’s aptly titled record label Mac’s Record Label. He warmed us up with soft electric piano ballads, backed with a simple groovy drum machine, and a few friendly guitar lines from his single bandmate. Key tracks Peaches & Cream and Here We Go led the tight set, helping the packed crowd wind down and prepare for the laid-back evening.
With curtains closed, a bizarre news report announced the beginning of Drugdealer’s set. This described a recent controversy that apparently the band had run over a pack of quokkas while escaping a previous gig, which was allegedly only the most recent crime our stars had perpetrated. This was of course, just the first of many strange jokes to come.
The curtains parted, and Michael Collins welcomed us to the Drugdealer show. He told us this was his first time in Japan, “so Kawaii”, and that it was pleasant to be around such a simple people. This set the tone for what was a constant back and forth of true musicianship contrasted with bizarre humour for the following hour.
Largely playing keys and some guitar, Collins and bandmate Sasha Winn shared lead vocal duties, taking turns to play through the set, but the jokes were all Collins. He introduced us to the song Mad World, which was of course actually the hit Madison, the opener of their recent 2022 record Hiding In Plain Sight. Even namedropping controversial Aussie radio station Triple J during another track, no opportunity for goofiness was missed.
The tight engineering of the seventies drums on the records was not missed in the live setting, with just as much dry punchiness heard, and not a beat was out of the pocket. The guitarists and bassist grooved along to the beat, and our singers rode the waves with soft sweet melodies.
Highlights of the set included The End Of Comedy, Suddenly and Hard Dreaming Man, but my favourite track was of course Honey from the 2019 album Raw Honey. Such beautiful harmonies and vocal lines were not missed in the live rendition.
While the band is certainly self-aware of their throwback and potentially dad-rock tendencies, don’t let them sell themselves short – they’re a killer live band, with a set of gorgeous groovy rockers sure to get you dancing and smiling any day of the week.