Liars’ image is misleading. The Los Angeles-based revolving door trio, who look partially like a throwback new wave outfit and partially like they might have come in from a job painting houses, is on its seventh album of industrial electronics, Mess.
The threesome took to the stage of Los Angeles’ Fonda Theatre on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, with a simple backdrop of their name and a geometric shape, facing a crowd well-versed in its discography. Vocalist Angus Andrew donned what closely resembled an unraveling ski mask, its signature yarn, the symbol for Mess, like so many clumps of multi-colored, overcooked spaghetti. After a number of punishing tracks, this item was shaken off, or perhaps it simply unraveled, revealing Andrew’s hair, not so different from the spaghetti ski mask.
Given that it is only three people and even fewer instruments creating Liars’ sound, the cacophony is at an obnoxious level. But this is what their audience wants as when the group lowered to a mellower channel, it didn’t take long for them to get back to their clanging, which was much better received. Case in point, the robotic yet rhythmic “Mess On A Mission,” which had the crowd in a downright frenzy. At certain points, however, the performance is just shouting and din. The most cadenced moments of the night were during the encore with the hypnotic “Boyzone” from Mess and the ten-year-old “Broken Witch” from 2004’s They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. The evening of harsh beats was a brutal one for the earplug-less.
In contrast, Liars’ inaugural turn at the Getty Center’s newly minted Friday Flights on May 30, 2014 was an exercise in restraint and subtlety. The monthly event hosts either a musician or cultural tastemaker to curate the evening based on inspiration from one of the museum’s exhibition. Liars’ focus piece was Jackson Pollock’s “Mural.” The nine-foot by 20-foot detailed abstract, which was commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim for the entry to her apartment, is a landmark in Pollock’s career.
“The Getty's proposal was very broad - which made it interesting. They asked us to do whatever we liked as a response to the museum as a whole. The Pollock exhibition was one component of that,” says Liars’ Andrew. “Initially we had several ideas for sound pieces that would play alongside ‘Mural’ but fire code restrictions prevented it. We then approached Mary Pearson Andrew about creating a textile-based response to the painting. We'd hoped to show this work on the floor of the gallery directly in front of ‘Mural’ but this brought up safety issues. Eventually, Mary's piece was shown outside the gallery in the courtyard which was nice because the early evening light enhanced the colors of the material.”
Put together by themselves and select friends whose work they admire but hadn’t had the opportunity to collaborate with, Liars had a number of installations around the museum.
Prior to entering the museum, what looks like an abandoned band set-up plays eerily without any members present, but with a bunch of the telltale colorful yarn of Liars’ Mess. The entrance hall features another installation with an organ and two video screens. The yarn shows up in a fan and a “monster,” as a garden sculpture in an almost hidden corner, and flanking the stage. The stage itself is set up as a living room with intense detail. From meticulously arranged novels (mainly John Grisham) to a rod full of clothes, later in the evening a couple will be playing chess sitting on couch. Behind the couch is the Liars’ Aaron Hemphill who is controlling the understated music being piped into the serene atmosphere of the courtyard. In one of the theatres, a short film about sound and visuals plays, a bit like digital storytelling only more static. Included are microphones capturing the sound of Rice Krispies, water gongs, and a microwave. Additionally, there are two fountain installations: one, with a television screen and speakers, the other, only sound at the Grotto Amphora fountain.
“We wanted the pieces to respond to the vast scale of the place, to inject a certain amount of life into the architecture, which can often feel stark and overwhelming,” says Andrew of the idea behind the Liars’ installations. Of the stage set-up specifically he says, “Our idea was to bring a sense of ‘home’ or familiarity into the museum as a means to offset the very formal nature of the space. Any time we DJ, it’s interesting to uncover some of our more disparate interests in music. Rather than reference the obvious or immediate influences, it’s exciting to go further afield and touch on ideas that seem less relevant though equally important.”
Complementing the Liars’ installations were flags by Kate Mosher Hall, a garden sound installation and projections in the Museum Lecture Hall by John Wiese, sounds by Protect Me accompany Liars’ installation in front of the Entrance Hall, a Pollock playlist by Permanent Records, and the aforementioned rug by Mary Pearson Andrew in response to Pollock’s “Mural.”
“We walked through the museum together discussing the spaces and all the possibilities,” says Andrew of Liars’ collaboration with the other artists. “We wanted them to create work that would help transform the museum and its grounds into a less formal, more visceral environment.”
The next Friday Flights at Getty Center is on June 27, 2014 curated by the innovative storefront shop, Ooga Booga
Words: Lily Moayeri