Having no real knowledge of Van Gogh beyond his iconic Irises and The Starry Night pieces I was almost disappointed not seeing them. However it wasn’t far into the exhibition that paintings of faceless fieldworkers and dark pencil sketches drew me in, to experience the seasons through Van Gogh’s eyes.
As a Van Gogh neophyte, I found the exhibition interesting and insightful. An introductory video showing beautiful nature scenes, narrated by David Stratton and read by David Wenham at the entrance of the exhibition introduce you to Van Gogh and his thoughts on nature and interactive touch screens allow you to scroll through a timeline of his life.
If you plan on taking your time through the exhibition and allowing yourself the space to view the pieces without distraction then the Friday night session may not be for you as it is quite crowded and loud. This was not a negative for me and I found the atmosphere throughout the exhibition and the rest of the gallery exciting.
After a tour of northern European seasons I headed into the Great Hall, where eager Gareth Liddiard fans sat patiently, covering the floor. It was clear that his performance was the drawcard for many there, including myself.
As we waited The Grigoryan Brothers performed a classical quartet recital. Which was light, moody and went almost unnoticed by the Liddiard fans in waiting.
Gareth takes the stage and introduces himself with a quiet “how is everybody?” but gathers momentum into what is an almost comedic performance broken up by the dark and drawling songs that he is known for.
“Pipe down old people” he says, in reference to those clearly not there for his performance that are continuing to socialise outside the Hall, their voices echoing in the space.
Gareth begins with ‘Blondin Makes An Omelette’ from his solo album Strange Tourist.
He flawlessly flows from one random topic to another, each of which seems to relate to or to have inspired the upcoming song.
One of the highlights of the introductions was for the song ‘Oh My’, taken from the The Drones album Havilah; “I saw Andrew Bolt he was walking around here today… there’s another Dutch master… Wagner sort of made Nazis look nice, so I can’t do Wagner, Andrew can … This is a song that Andrew would hate. It’s about the end of world which isn’t happening according to him, its just getting whiter better”.
Asking the audience in between songs “what’s the happs?” encouraging an open dialogue with the audience, the singer revelling in a captive audience in usual Liddiard fashion. “What was that?” as one audience member shouts an inaudible comment to Gareth “… maybe just shut up and play some music and that would be a reasonable comment”.
Not only is Gareth here to perform, he’s here to educate: “Can I tell you something about Van Gogh that they don’t teach you in school? Van Gogh was a fucking freak. He was a massive asshole who stank. He had all sorts of hygiene problems. That’s why no-one liked him except his brother and now they carry on as though if they met him and seen his shit back in the day they would have gone ‘fantastic’… if modern day Van Gogh walked in here now you would all call the fucking cops”
He goes on to perform Strange ‘Tourist’, ‘Highplains Mailman’, ‘Did She Scare All of Your Friends Away’; all from Strange Tourist, covering Townes Van Zandt’s, ‘Lungs’ and Lou Reed’s ‘Oh Jim’. Before a museum staff member informs Gareth that he is going over time and finishes the set with ‘Taman Shud’ off The Drones most recent album Feelin Kinda Free.
It’s easy to say that Gareth’s live performance appeal lies in his charm and personality but to think that’s the main draw card takes away from the brilliance of his complicated, dark song writing. At the end of the day he writes genius songs and performs them as if he’s playing for his mates in a share house living room.
In the words of Gareth Liddiard “Van Gogh, it’s the show, go”.
NGV Friday Nights featuring musical guests, exhibition talks and Van Gogh and the Seasons is running until July 7.
There are limited tickets and they generally sell out in advance.