Words by: Kevin Schwartzbach | Images by: Adam Scotti
Of Montreal :: 10.29.08 :: Metropolis :: Montreal, Canada
Theatrics have long been a key element in many rock concerts. Few bands, however, put on a performance quite like Athens, GA natives Of Montreal. Between a troupe of masked stage performers and the outrageously flamboyant stage antics of Kevin Barnes (lead singer/guitar/bandleader/songwriter) it can be hard to tell whether you're witnessing a rock concert or some sort of avant-garde play. The spectacles displayed inside Metropolis ranged from the bizarre to the outright perverted. Any weathered Of Montreal listener would agree that such spectacles make for the perfect supplement to the band's quirky music and explicit lyrics. This show was one of the most confusing, sensually over-stimulating and enjoyable nights of my life. And seeing the band in the city that bears their name was certainly an added treat. However, you must be forewarned before reading on: Of Montreal is not for the faint of heart.
Musically, this band is hard to pin down. They are a mix of 1960s psychedelic rock, 1970s soul and funk, 1980s new wave and power-pop and 1990s indie rock. Essentially, they're the end result of taking The Beatles, Talking Heads, Isaac Hayes, David Bowie and several issues of Playboy (and Playgirl) and throwing them into a giant musical blender. The innards of Barnes' dazzlingly demented and eccentrically erotic mind has birthed music dealing with everything from the mundane to the insane. Their latest release, the wonderfully weird Skeletal Lamping, is a showcase of all of Barnes' disturbing fantasies put to paper, and consequently their most sexually explicit album to date. Since this tour is in support of that album, I knew this was going to be quite an outlandish show.
The opening band Gang Gang Dance turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The Brooklyn foursome meshes elements of rock, electronic, psychedelic, atonal and world music to achieve a wholly unique sound. The high-pitched tribal vocals of Liz Bougatsos sounded like something out of an anthropology documentary, while the band came off like a combination of Bassnectar and early Floyd. Despite sinister chord progressions, pulsing rhythms and hypnotic beats that made for a very danceable atmosphere, the crowd remained unapologetically static.
Fans did, however, let out a burst of applause when the main act took the stage. As the rest of the band got the groove going, golden monsters carried Barnes in on a veiled throne. With a scream, the band jumped right into Skeletal Lamping's closer "Id Engager." Barnes instantly lured the crowd in with his seductive singing of "oohs" and "ahhs" while the golden monsters danced behind him. Unfortunately, the crowd decided not to follow suit, as most seemed content to just fixedly watch the display before them. Soft vocal harmonies on top of rugged guitar riffs from Barnes and Byron Poole (lead guitar) smoothly transitioned into a rich bassline provided by Davey Pierce to start the next song, "So Begins Our Alabee." Barnes emphatically let us know that it was time that "We begin/ begin our odyssey," as the band led us on a magnificently strange musical journey.
|Kevin Barnes :: 10.29 :: Montreal|
Finally, the audience started moving their feet and shaking their asses as "She's a Rejecter," a hit off their 2007 release Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, sent the crowd into a frenzy. Barnes' suggestion of how to react to unrequited love was metaphorically depicted by the stage performers dressed as cowboys engaged in an armed standoff in an Old West saloon. Throughout the concert the company of performers portrayed a wide array of characters, including but not limited to soldiers, farm animals, muscle-bound transvestites in pink leotards and all other sorts of indescribable, peculiar costumed creatures. Though even when I wasn't quite sure what they were dressed up as, they seemed to aptly compliment the music.
Several other well-known songs from earlier albums such as "Disconnect the Dots" and "October is Eternal" were all crowd pleasers to which everyone sang along. "Wraith Pinned to the Mist (and Other Games)" urged the audience to join in the "bizarre celebrations," to which most seemed much obliged. The song's jovial bassline and escapist lyrics left me in a state of bliss (and with an inexplicable craving for Outback Steakhouse). "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" had drummer Ahmed Gallab, dressed as a women with a long, silver-haired wig, coming down from his elevated drum kit to switch over to bass while Jamey Huggins (multi-instrumentalist) covered drumming duties.
Most of the set, however, was comprised of tracks off the new album, which it seemed a majority of the crowd was unfamiliar with. Nevertheless, it was these songs that brought out the most shocking theatrics and stage antics. During the "St. Exquisite's Confessions," Barnes underwent the first of his many outfit changes. The sensual, soulful song had Barnes dressed as a Cardinal being caressed by a nun. Barnes proceeded to rip off his robes to reveal his stark and surprisingly well-toned body, wearing nothing but a pair of golden spandex undies. If the explicitly sexual nature of the new material wasn't made obvious from the lyrics, then Barnes' half-naked stage persona, Georgie Fruit, made it abundantly clear. To further drive the point home, the funky "Wicked Wisdom" had the performers in skin-toned suits (complete with pubic hair) performing acts of faux-fornication onstage, while Barnes let the crowd know, "I'm just a black she-male," doing his best to destabilize gender stereotypes.
|Of Montreal :: 10.29 :: Montreal|
Perhaps the most shocking moment of the evening came when Barnes pretended to hang himself from a noose during "And I've Seen a Bloody Shadow." After being taken down he proceeded to have his body smeared with red paint while exclaiming "I want you to be my pleasure puss/ I want to know what it feels like to be inside you" during the eclectic and extremely erotic "Plastis Wafers." The end of the song exploded in a wonderful outpour of energy that had me jumping up and down. The crowd, however, once more refused to budge.
It took another familiar song to finally get folks moving again, namely set closer "A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger." While the band played the sprightly tune, putting a smile on everyone's face, men in chrome space suits regaled the crowd with streams of confetti.
The band came back out for their encore to massive cheers, diving right into "Gronlandic Edit." Barnes showcased the uppermost reaches of his vocal range while the band harmonized the word "forget," though I knew this was a night I never would. During "Oslo in the Summertime," Barnes got a chance to show off his drumming skills, and the night ended with a superlative rendition of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The song had Dottie Alexander (keyboards) switching over to guitar and Huggins to drums. The energetic grunge classic sent the crowd into its most boisterous state all night, as people head-banged along with the band and their miscellaneous performers. Somewhere, Kurt Cobain must have been looking down upon us smiling.
A little confused, a little overwhelmed and incredibly satisfied, I walked home reflecting on what a fantastically bizarre show I had just experienced. Of Montreal taught me that boys can be girls, girls can be boys, drummers can be bassists, keyboardists can be guitarists and Kevin Barnes can be, well, pretty much anything he damn well wants to be.
10.29.08 :: Metropolis :: Montreal, Canada
Id Engager, So Begins Our Alabee, Triphallus to Punctuate, She's a Rejecter, For Our Elegant Caste, Touched Something's Hollow, Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse, Gallery Piece, Wrath Pinned to the Mist (and Other Games), Women's Studies Victims, St. Exquisite's Confessions, Ero's Entropic Tundra, Nonpareil of Favor, October is Eternal, Wicked Wisdom, Disconnect the Dots, And I've Seen a Bloody Shadow, Plastis Wafers, Beware Our Nubile Miscreants, Mingusings, A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger
Encore: Gronlandic Edit, Oslo in the Summertime, Smells Like Teen Spirit
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