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Live Review: Gareth Liddiard, Ela Stiles

24 April 2017 | 3:36 pm | Matt MacMaster

"'Sad' is an understatement, but to moan about 'end times' is folly."

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And so it goes.

Newtown Social Club is done. Roughly three years after opening, the old Sandringham Hotel site is vacant once more, soon to be replaced with a mini-golf theme bar. 'Sad' is an understatement, but to moan about 'end times' is folly. What we should focus on here is what NSC has given us: hundreds of shows, by first class artists from around the world, playing metal to country to drone to hip hop and beyond. The NSC tapped into, and contributed to, a vital and progressive music scene, one that hums and bristles beneath Sydney's slick, lobotomised surface, rewarding anyone with curiosity or ambition. What the NSC was capable of in such a short space of time should be a valuable lesson for those wanting to pick up the torch.

The NSC was different. It had its own thing going on. It didn't compete with the Oxford Art Factory, or try to replace the Annandale (RIP), much less the Sando, in terms of what they offered and who they offered it to. What started as simply the Sydney arm of a Melbourne outfit ended up feeling like a legitimate Newtown local. The refurb never really felt finished or fully functional (what was up with the big island seat in the front bar?), but it was also young. Bars like the NSC need many years to settle into themselves. What the NSC did was nothing less than attempt to create an iconic Sydney music venue. It failed. Not because they didn't know how, or because they didn't have the numbers, but because they fell victim to an indifferent system.

The NSC hosted a particularly analogue set of players over the years, whose ranks favoured modern, young talent. Acts like White Lung, Shining Bird, We Lost The Sea and Methyl Ethel found packed houses waiting for them. They didn't really focus on legacy artists, although folks like Dallas Crane had a crack, and were very well-received, as did Mick "Weddings Parties Anything" Thomas. The constant roster of vibrant, talented internationals meant that making the NSC your weekly venue of choice seemed easy on paper. Thee Oh Sees, Majical Cloudz and Daniel Rossen played incredible sets, and the tiny stage hosted many local heroes as well - Gold Class and Hockey Dad come to mind, and the wonderful Emma Russack may have saved the whole thing entirely if she was booked on the reg.

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Sending the Club off in suitably shaggy style was the incorrigible arch-cynic Gareth Liddiard. His songs are black as coal, with embers of wry humour burning deep down at their heart. His rough provocations to "Fuck shit up" belied his talent for putting together cryptic and complex ballads about haunted people. Highplains Mailman was evocative and grim, with levity, in the form of Liddiard fucking up half way through, breaking like the sun at dawn. Shark Fin Blues was a cracked and broken thing, this solo rendition revealing details hidden by its full-band counterpart. Did She Scare All Your Friends has lost none of its power. His guitar strings were throttled like galley slaves, each chord and melancholy riff tearing and straining, pleading with the mute crowd. The memory at the heart of the song, that of Anna and her beauty, was heart-breaking.

Support duties fell to Ela Stiles, who offered a droney, hypnotic set full of gauzy atmosphere and restless energy. It was a worthy addition to the evening, one that she, and the Club, should be proud of.

The end of the show was interesting. In between beers being pulled from the few taps left, murmurs about inevitability and real estate floated about. People were likely thinking about the green-shirted staff about to take over when Holey Moley bumps in. A feeling of hopelessness seems appropriate, but really, like a baseball pitch in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, if you build it, they will come. The question now is: who will build it, how soon can they do it, and what will 'it' be?