Show Recap: Of Montreal at Theatre Of The Living Arts
Of Montreal’s studio work conjures great hope for the band’s live show. The Athens-based group is 10 albums deep with a profound and diverse discography. It mixes art with dance—fusing psychedelia and soul, funk and indie, twee-pop and R&B. Lead singer Kevin Barnes can sing in Venn diagrams of Prince, David Bowie, and James Mercer. The band’s most accessible music (songs such as “Gronlandic Edit,” “Gallery Piece,” and “Wraith Pinned To The Mist”—which was used in Outback Steakhouse commercials) features irresistible basslines; most of their albums, however, also have a couple experimental songs that respectfully wander past the five-minute barrier, held together by intriguing synth or involved percussion. Of Montreal’s most recent album, False Priest, is the most beat-driven yet. It features Solange (Beyonce’s indie-inclined sister) and Janelle Mona; the guitar wahs channel Curtis Mayfield, and that Of Montreal bass blends with Parliament funk. In short, it should have been a dance party at the TLA on Friday.
The sheer size of Of Montreal overwhelmed the stage as the band opened with a version of its lesser-known “L’age D’or.” It’s hard to avoid the comparison between the song’s namesake—a film by Salvador Dali—and the concert, both of which contained a surrealist, shocking, and ultimately disjointed plot. After following up with the concert staple “For Our Elegant Caste” (which briefly recaptured the audience), the band delved into theatrics that dominated the middle of the set. Most songs included skits performed by a gaggle of costumed non-musicians. “Oslo In The Summertime” featured a group of relatively well-choreographed dancers wearing what resembled Klu Klux Klan garb. Later, Barnes—dressed in drag—handed the mic to violinist K. Ishibashi, saying, “We’ve never done this before, but isn’t that what art is all about!?” (That art, by the way, ended up being Ishibashi’s senior recital piece, a hard-to-follow rap called “Just The Tip.”)
Things went downhill from there. The energy of “Sex Karma” was strong, but not strong enough to overcome the distraction of a Mexican wrestler (dressed in American flag spandex) who jumped through balloon hoops, held up wacky signs, and pumped his fists. “Holiday Call” was marred by a poorly rehearsed royal wedding: Skeletons brought the bride onstage, the prince wore a colonial wig, giant gingerbread men joined them, and everyone did a Russian folk dance (the Yablochko). Someone Barnes called “George Croony” did a Sinatra-esque number while sipping a martini alone onstage. Perhaps the whole affair was the result of countless hours’ worth of coordination and effort—but it felt like a series of hastily prepared skits performed by a high-school drama club. And, unfortunately, it was an extended low point that lasted the majority of the set. Clearly the band (and their mustachioed actor friends) had a blast, but even the hardcore fans up against the stage struggled to stay focused.
Of Montreal closed the main set with a quartet of compelling, drama-free songs. “Bunny Ain’t No Kind Of Rider” was long, and shined when they let the bass ride. “Faberge Falls For Shuggie” hinged on an interesting—but annoyingly high-pitched—violin riff. Barnes shined on “Our Riotous Defects,” with his Prince-like chorus and girly-rap about a crazy ex. “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse” was quintessential Of Montreal. It had the requisite solid bass line and just the right amount of theatrics: confetti and dancers in animal costumes. For the encore, those in pigs outfits ducked behind the speakers, visible to the audience via the trippy lightshow cameras. They popped back up for “Plastis Wafer,” which rose and fell with the inclusion and exclusion of the bass.
Then came the closer, Hissing Fauna Are You The Destroyer‘s “She’s A Rejecter”—which seemed to go on forever, and encapsulated the worst parts of the set. A fake brawl (which started as an unremarkable sideshow) evolved into chaos. More spandex-adorned Mexican wrestlers, some scantily clad women, the guy in the colonial wig, and a referee flailed at one another as the musicians dropped their instruments and joined in, one by one. It all went (even further) to hell when bassist Davey Pierce, the rhythmic bulwark of the group, left his post and started chucking people off the stage. I couldn’t help but wish Pierce had done it sooner. For all their talent, the violinist, the various keyboard players, the actors, and even the guitarists seemed to always be in the way of the bands driving force: the musical communication between the bass and the showman Barnes.
Finally, the last remaining musician (whoever it was, I lost track) banged a dissonant guitar chord over and over as band members and actors were strewn everywhere. The less-enthused audience members began to desert, but a core group of fans (many dressed in colorful costumes) seemed to appreciate the entire show. As the massive fake brawl continued to the sound of high-pitched feedback, band members leapt into the arms of the zealous bunch. They supported Barnes—in his miniskirt, beads, and wrestling mask—as he crowd-surfed toward the back. Once he crossed into the half-empty part of the TLA dance floor, however, he was dropped, as was K. Ishibashi—who returned to the stage to play “America The Beautiful” on his violin.
Was it patriotism? Ironic pseudo-patriotism? Beyond ironic, meta-pseudo-patriotism? Or maybe someone in the band had a premonition about the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden, which the rest of the world wouldn’t know about until late Sunday night? The remaining crowd chanted “USA! USA!” as the lights returned and the band took a bow. —Dave Simpson