An important note before you read this review: Take a look at Todd Owyoung’s photos of the stage show for Of Montreal’s concert last night. I could spend 1,000 words trying (and failing) to describe the many costume changes, free-form dances and thematic allusions that happened during the show; moreover, I would be tempted to explain what happened, which would be folly. So look at the pictures, draw your own conclusions, and read the rest of the review if you wish.
In comparison to the band’s show at the Pageant last fall, last night’s concert had a few strikes against it. Of Montreal just released Skeletal Lamping on Tuesday, giving the most die-hard fans (at least those who didn’t steal it online before its release date) only a few days to ingest the songs. Secondly, the new songs, which made up the bulk of the set, just aren’t as good those on as last year’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, an album that mixed singer Kevin Barnes’ neuroses and other-worldly pop magic into something fierce and hypnotic. Lastly, last fall’s show opened with not one but TWO Prince covers (“I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star”) – how can any show be less than stellar with that opening shot?
The show began with “Id Engager,” Lamping's lead single, and moved quickly into “So Begins Our Alabee,” a highlight from 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins. The first half of the show kept this one old song / one new song exchange, which kept the packed Pageant floor in a frenzy of flailing arms and hopping feet. Even without the make-up and costume changes, Barnes is a hell of a showman, his skinny frame moving all around the stage and the twin elevated drum risers, looking like a cross between a preening drag queen and a hip-hop hype man.
Respect must be paid to the other five members of the band; while Barnes chooses to record most Of Montreal records by himself, his bandmates are charged with realizing his day-glo vision on stage each night, and the constant instrument-switching and tempo-shifting didn’t once disrupt the show’s non-stop energy.
As stated earlier, the new songs didn’t land as well as older gems, and the on-stage theatrics often felt like an intentional distraction away from the new, more disjointed material. But many of the fan favorites felt slower and more stilled than before; “Disconnect the Dots,” the song that signaled of Montreal’s movement toward drum machines, synths, and pop-disco bliss, dragged in its final section. Still, hearing “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games” and “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” was a reminder that no one in indiedom (or, really, anywhere else) writes songs that are as instantly danceable, unerringly catchy and lyrically baffling as Kevin Barnes.
After the proper set ended, the band returned for a three-song encore, beginning with two older songs, “Gronlandic Edit” and “Oslo in the Summertime.” The show ended as it has elsewhere on the tour, with a straight-ahead cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” My show-going companions had a few theories as to why this cover worked so well. RFT scribe Keegan Hamilton (whose takedown of Skeletal Lamping can be read here) argued that the song’s central line “I feel stupid and contagious / Here we are now, entertain us” is a perfect mission statement for the band’s live show: The entertainment aspect threatens to overtake the music, which is often infectious as it is meaningless.
I wondered if Barnes and co. chose the angst-y track as a reaction to the fey, dandified dress-up that preceded it – it was a chance to turn off the drum machines, drop the poses and rock out in a primal fashion. Or it could be that Barnes was doing what he’s been doing for a decade – following his fancy and playing what comes into his head without regard to what it might mean.
-- Christian Schaeffer