After a thrilling set from Lost Animal, playing material from Ex-Tropical with calculated aloofness. The Drones frontman himself graces the stage for one of his rare acoustic performances.

For one typified by the knotted blues rock and brutal accounts of grizzly Australian history of his day job, the haughty trimmings of Northcotes’ Regal Ballroom seem a little out of character. The ticket price including optional dinner, the hall splayed with dining tables and silverware, with ornate chandeliers draped overhead. However Liddiard, flanked by gothic candelabras, commands the space. A tall, cavernous roof allowing him ample room to roar his hardest and strum his fiercest.

As he opens with “Blondin Makes An Omelette” the audience automatically dims to an awed silence, save for the buzzing of waiters bussing tables, you can’t hear the quiet for Liddiard’s powerful and magnetic playing. Seated, his hair as tousled and wild as his gnarled guitar lines, he performs with severity, eyes scrunched deep in impassioned performance.

Punctuated between his snaking songs is his acerbic yet playful banter. Laced with black humour, he slurs and curses like a sailor through tales of missing Polish hooligans rioting in Amsterdam, or his argument with German road-workers who had underestimated “the power of an indie hangover.” His stories are as enthralling and essential as the narratives laced into his wiry songs. He both teases the audience with shock (“chop your cocks off, that’s good for the environment”), or casually rallies them; one particular attack on Tony Abbott eliciting whoops of applause. His prologues are particularly interesting, remarking how a “fella came down with post-traumatic stress thought it was a good idea to move in with me,” before launching into the bluesy pluck of “Strange Tourist.”

Liddiard’s reputation may proceed him. There’s no doubting the patience and maturity it takes to appreciate his stamina-testing tunes, most averaging the ten-minute mark and strung with stinging polemic. Delivered with such potent intensity that you barely have time to drink in the words, coloured by his throaty snarl. His raw dissonances are more pronounced live, but so too is his delicacy, particularly on a devastating performance of “You Sure Ain’t Mine Now” and a spare and mournful take of “Did She Scare All Your Friends Away.”

There’s time for Drones staples too, namely the stomping “Your Acting’s Like The End of the World” and “Shark Fin Blues” still rattles with jagged lucidity, but it’s “The Radicalisation of D” that steals, and seals, the show.

Its two-note cycle, bleeding with brooding intensity, ratchets the tension over sixteen intense minutes towards a final damning coda “you are living in a nightmare.” The didactics of one man playing his guitar dissolves, leaving only the confronting force of Liddiard’s terrifying, guttural howl, in a masterpiece that unsettles with ghastly clarity.

Earlier, his rough honesty shines through when he includes a fevered reading of “Oh Jim” by Lou Reed “because it’s easy,” or joking that, at forty, he’ll be playing “the Croydon Hotel… with Jon Stevens.”

Hardly. Not while he delivers searing shows that defend his reputation as one of our nation’s most unique and compellingly intense performers.

– Al Newstead

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