Monday, February 1, 2010

When They Get Together, It's Always Hot Magic

Today writer Michelle Fay Nowitz gives her amazing tale of one crazy night with Of Montreal.
If you’ve never heard Of Montreal’s ethereal tunes, listening to them for the first time might be an experience similar to Alice going down the rabbit hole. Alice, floating in midair at moments, falling fast and hard at others - all resulting in an adrenaline pumping high sure to make your brain conjure up psychedelic visuals as well as dance your ass off. Of Montreal’s latest album, Skeletal Lamping, takes you on a psychedelic-pop journey through endless twists and turns with surprises around every corner. Their show at the 9:30 club this past weekend wasn’t much different.

The moment the lights dimmed, the audience was greeted by four men donned in black body suits wearing various animal head masks. Each picking a different instrument, they began to play, strum, and bang mercilessly, as if they were children who just discovered that they could make endless noise. The crowd, who was cheering them on, assumed that the band members were wearing the various masks (Kevin Barnes, of course, being the tiger), but were pleasantly surprised to see the actual band members come out one by one and kick the animal-human hybrids off their instruments. The second they picked up their instruments and got settled, they immediately swung into their pop hit “Suffer For Fashion”. And with the opening drumbeat of the song, on went the lights and the colorful, vivacious graphics on the large screens behind them accompanied by Kevin Barnes’s melodic voice floating through the rafters. They continued on to play “Mingusings”, in a harder and louder version than is found on Skeletal Lamping.

As for graphics, the band innovatively used the green shirt Kevin Barnes was wearing and the green masks the mimes (who were previously on stage as the animal-human hybrids) had on as a green screen; when the live cameras placed around the stage would film a band member, instead of the plain green that they donned in real life, the color would magically turn into multi-color kaleidoscope designs on the big screen above the stage. And for the band members who weren’t wearing green? The mimes generously shined green lights onto them, forming an other-worldly effect, also translated on to the screen. They even took it as far as to have two mimes (one in a green cape) fighting behind Barnes with green swords (or lightsabers, depending on how you look at it) as he sung.

The concert was a theatrical production which even a non-Montreal fan would have found amusing, if not mesmerizing. The band morphed even their smoother, gentler songs into ones that the audience could jump, dance, and prance to-much like Kevin Barnes seemed to be doing on stage during most of their set; their clever use of green screen (especially during “Spike The Senses”) was impressive and complemented the music perfectly; and let’s not forget the moment when two men came on stage in gas masks and surrounded by smoke as Barnes sung the mesmerizing and slower tune of “St. Exquisite’s Confessions”, which picks up towards the end with the surreal lyrics “Feeling voices again not good/Think the sky is pregnant with maggots…” Or the man dressed in boys’ one-piece pajamas come on stage accompanied by a guy dressed up as a priest. “St. Exquisite’s Confessions” ends climactically with intense music emanating from guitarist Bryan Poole and drummer Jamey Huggins, and the boy beating the shit out of the priest. And did I mention the point where two guys come on stage wearing only underwear poised in the dark, holding what I could tell was some sort of fruit? They stayed standing tall and proud as Barnes jumped and danced around them, and the audience jumped with him, as he sang “Oslo In The Summertime” effortlessly. Just as effortlessly as it seemed the men crushed the fruits in the palms of their hands.

By the end of the show, the visual and theatrical stakes got raised higher and higher with each song. From the mimes shooting feathers out of huge machines on to the crowd as they danced, to the epic finale: heavy instrumentals blare, strobe lights flashing brighter and faster, and Kevin Barnes climbing on top of a huge wooden X with each arm or leg on each section, vertically facing the crowd as the mimes pull the sides of the X stretching Barnes, as if it is a medieval torture device. Kevin Barnes is a thespian in our modern age – his stage presence and behavior is histrionic in the best way possible.

Lyrics are an important part of Of Montreal’s unique sound – their surreal feel give way to an incomparable vibe and tell elaborate stories that exist as if on a virtual plane which you can listen to incessantly. You will soon become addicted to the best kind of sexually explicit lyrics such as “I want you to be my pleasure puss/I wanna know what it’s like to be inside you” from “Plastis Wafer”. Or “we can do it softcore if you want, but you should know I take it both ways/We can do it softcore if you want, but you should know that I go both ways” from “For Our Elegant Caste” (I won’t even mention the lyrics to “Gallery Piece”). Barnes’s inimitable voice creates a musical cocoon that continuously draws you in as you listen to the unconventional lyrics and transports you down the rabbit hole for the entirety of the performance. The band was omnipotent – controlling the crowd at will with their instruments and voices. They commanded attention with their stage presence, resulting in frenzied screams and endless howls of approval from the crowd.

From their grand opening to their extravagant finale, the entire audience was Alice, falling chaotically and rapidly down the rabbit hole, and enjoying every second of it.

-Michelle Fay Nowitz


  1. Anonymous2/2/10 17:25

    This is a perfect description of an amazing night! Well done!

  2. I've always been perplexed and drawn to the vivacious eccentricity of Of Montreal. Though I've always missed them when they came to town. Thanks for filling me in! I like the idea of super descriptive concert reviews.

  3. Anonymous2/2/10 17:59

    amazing review love it!