Since early July, the NGV has hosted Friday Nights at Monet’s Garden in celebration of the stunning and extensive exhibition of the French Impressionists’ work. Tonight’s event is the last, and Jae Laffer – frontman of Perth band the Panics – has been chosen to close the series.
Before Laffer and his newly formed band take to the stage, we have time to explore Monet’s Garden itself. Triple J’s Zan Rowe is positioned behind some decks, providing the chilled after-hours vibes. Her playlist fills the grand foyer, where many pause to take in the installation of white china bowls floating upon a turquoise lake – a nod to the waterlilies that feature so heavily in the work of Claude Monet.
The four vast rooms throughout which Monet’s Garden is spread are muted, but for the shuffling of feet. Tonight’s event is a sell out, but the galleries are still filled with light. The paintings depict so many aspects of Monet’s garden at Giverny: the greens, and blues, the pinks and purples, the different tones of white all creating movement upon the canvases.
We find the very last component of the exhibition in a large, darkened and rounded room. The wall that makes up half of the room forms a crescent-shaped cinema screen, upon which a short film begins – it feels much like sitting in a planetarium, encapsulated by the visuals and enveloped by the cinematic score. The film, which was commissioned for the multimedia installation, features footage from Monet’s garden and home from sunrise to sunset. This footage, paired with piano and strings, creates a feeling of nostalgia and gives a glimpse into the beauty that Monet surrounded himself with.
Out in the Great Hall the band have assembled on stage, where they’re about to play a set that’s unheard by a live audience. While opener ‘Right Above My Heart’ doesn’t sound like a Panics song, there is something familiar about it. Perhaps it’s Laffer’s vivid lyricism and the patter of brushes against the snare, matched with acoustic guitar and his distinctive vocals.
‘When the Iron Glows Red’ – the title track from Laffer’s forthcoming solo album – has a haunting reverb that reaches right to the back of the room. ‘Leave a Light On’ is the first single from the album, and after a false start it bursts forth from the stage with rhythmic vigour. Laffer’s voice is bright, the lyrics are poignant (“I don’t know where my darkness grows”) and the solid acoustic guitar, strong percussion, clear keys and full bass intertwine with one another skilfully. ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’ is more upbeat – a real highlight with its focus on guitar and rhythm, and Laffer’s talents for illustrative story telling.
Midway through the set, the band leaves Laffer on stage so he can play a stripped-back version of the Panics’ ‘Sleeps Like a Curse’ from the album of the same name. Despite the fact that there is far less instrumentation than on the recorded version, it is resonant enough to keep Panics fans satisfied.
With the band back in action, ‘Leaving on Time’ is another set highlight, but the last song of the night, ‘I See Myself in You’, is a special one. Laffer mentions that a paternal figure passed away around the same time that his daughter was born and “this came out.” There’s a stillness in the room as Laffer and his keyboard player weave a tale of duality: sadness and celebration. They leave the stage after a quick “thank you”, without fanfare.
With these cohesive elements of art and music tonight, Friday Nights at Monet’s Garden has been a stylishly curated event – and a fine note to go out on.