Gareth Liddiard + Lost Animal – The Regal Ballroom (23/03/2012)

Like its counterpart further down High Street, The Thornbury Theatre, Fanny’s Receptions in Northcote has been returned to its former glory as The Regal Ballroom.

Several round tables were set up and scattered around the gaudy interior of the 1912 cinema/theatre for the ‘dinner and a show’ option offered for those arriving early. Fans, friends, and members of The Drones stood towards the back of the room and at its sides, beers in hands, the general feel of the room straddling an odd middle ground between that of a pub and a theatre.

It indeed seemed like a comically strange setting for Lost Animal’s blend of synthesizers, beats, and Jarrod Quarrell’s sneering punk vocals. Bassist Shags Chamberlain’s playing helped add a much needed sense of movement to the songs, which unfortunately lacked the energy and overall impact that they had at Golden Plains two weeks ago.

Quarrell writhed and growled over the backing tracks, his rough vocal delivery seemingly at odds with the soft nature of the music. Lost Animal are an exciting and talented group/project, so it was a shame that the setting just didn’t suit their performance.

Set closer and current single, “Lose the Baby”, was a pleasant reminder as to why last year’s Ex Tropical caught the ear of so many music critics and fans. The song’s simple, recurring melody and desperate lyrics were captivating, recalling Combat Rock era-Clash.

Soon afterwards, a short, shaggy haired figure in tight jeans and a very small leather jacket marched through the crowd, pausing only to wave to a few individuals, before disappearing backstage.

After a brief introduction from band booker Neil Wedd, Gareth Liddiard strolled purposefully onstage, guitar in hand, and seated himself. Visually, this setting – one man, one chair, and an acoustic guitar – was the visual representation of what Liddiard has been doing for the past eighteen months, following the release of his debut solo album, Strange Tourist.

The record is so lyrically dense, and rewarding, it could be seen as the rock music equivalent of a Dostoevsky novel, and so when performing onstage, Liddiard employs his exaggerated nasal slur and laconic wit to put the audience at ease. Indeed, he began his set simply talking, observing that by now most of the people present had already heard the songs he was about to play, so there wasn’t much for him to say at all, before launching into album opener “Blondin Makes an Omelette”.

Having last seen Liddiard performing this material at the East Brunswick Club a year ago, it was interesting to note that while that performance had been a note perfect delivery of the recorded album, the time passed since has changed the way in which he plays those songs. Some, such as “Blondin…” or “Strange Tourist” were given a rawer, more immediate treatment, which perhaps made the lyrics a little less discernible, but meant that the set’s energy levels were kept high; perhaps a necessary trade off, considering the size of the room.

There was, however, still a devastating amount of delicacy during moments such as “Did She Scare All Your Friends Away” and “You Sure Ain’t Mine Now”, during which Liddiard’s snarl was replaced with an almost shockingly beautiful falsetto.

Amidst his trademark banter, which included tales of being trapped by bushfires in rural Australia, and being caught up in a riot on his way to watch Low perform in Amsterdam, there was also room for some of the extended catalogue.

The Drones’ upbeat country sing-along, “Your Acting’s Like the End of The World”, from 2008’s Havilah, was improved by being given a more thoughtful, darker reading, whilst their signature tune “Shark Fin Blues” also worked well, but missed some of the energy of the full band version. A cover of Lou Reed’s “Oh Jim”, from 1973’s Berlin, was also included, but felt comparatively inessential.

One overjoyed and intoxicated punter heckled and whooped throughout the latter half of the set, whilst waiters swooped past, collecting drinks from the crowded tables. Although Liddiard’s affable one-rabid-man-band act sat more convincingly in The Regal Ballroom than Lost Animal had, the setting still did not have the comfortable balance of tacky and austere that both The Thonrbury Theatre and The Forum have managed to achieve.

Holding up his finger to show that there was one song remaining, there was little doubt what that could be – the incredible, hypnotic masterpiece that is “The Radicalisation of D”: Liddiard’s sixteen-minute harrowing tale of a young man’s decline into extremism. Few pieces of music can cause an audience to fall into stunned silence, eyes transfixed to the stage, but that song does it every time, and Liddiard’s performance was fittingly intense and emotional, leaving the stage to a rapturous applause.

As time moves on from the release of Strange Tourist and plans for the next Drones project become solidified, Liddiard’s solo shows are becoming increasingly infrequent, and so it was a rare pleasure indeed to witness one of this nation’s most unique and awe-inspiring musical talents show a room full of people how it’s done, at least one more time.

Originally published on The AU Review on 27/03/2012. View original article.

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