Photo credit: Chris Billheimer
Once again, I’ll fulfill my contractual obligations as music critic and point out, first and foremost, that my charge this week, Of Montreal, is best known as a member of the “legendary” Elephant 6 collective. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen the words “Elephant 6 collective” written without “the legendary” preceding them. In any case, Elephant 6 was most famous in those heady pre-millennial years for churning out twisted, psychedelic-leaning rock bands like it was going out style (wait a second…). As pursuant to clause C of my contract, I will now drop that Olivia Tremor Control, Beulah, Apples in Stereo, and the mighty Neutral Milk Hotel all acted as overachieving Elephant 6 brothers to our humble little Of Montreal.
24 Apr 2004: Subterranean Chicago
No longer. After lasting over seven years and putting out more recordings than Ryan Adams on speed, Of Montreal has thrown a healthy dose of dance into the psych-pop mix, and the result was a puffy-shirt-clad, confetti-covered extravaganza that had even the most long-faced indie kids shakin’ they ass at Chicago’s Subterranean. At this show, Of Montreal’s substantial (if slightly uneven) back catalog was wiped from memory as the band hustled and bumped its way through the just-released Satanic Panic in the Attic. As the band took the stage (with lead Montrealian Kevin Barnes sporting a Roger Daltrey-circa-1967 outfit), the sound system blared a Chicago Bulls-style introduction, asking us “to please welcome to the stage… Polyvinyl Recording artist… Of Montreal!”
Barnes and company then happily busted into “Disconnect the Dots” and immediately half the room was dancing. What does it take to get people at a Chicago small venue rock show to move their feet? Alcohol doesn’t seem to work. Drugs don’t even get their heads bobbing. And earth-shaking rock n’ roll generally just gets the boys stroking their chins thoughtfully. But Of Montreal has the magic touch. Kevin Barnes was the pied piper of hipsterville, and from his first incantation of “come disconnect the dots with me, poppet,” he already had us following in time.
Don’t get me wrong, there were still plenty of folded-arms types hanging around the back, more interested in the bar than the show. Undeterred, Of Montreal fostered the dance party atmosphere, not only by churning out song after song of electronic psychedelic pop mayhem, but with absurdist skits, confetti, and costume changes (including Kevin Barnes in a skeleton-print leotard for “Chrissy Kiss the Corpse”). One by one, the skeptics kicked off their Sunday shoes, whether drawn in by Barnes’ powdered-wig antics during “Rapture Rapes the Muses”, the hilarious sumo wrestler voiceover on the “wind war” skit, or, the coup-de-grace, a completely earnest closing cover of “More than a Feeling”. They all fell, every last one of ‘em, and they can thank the good people at Of Montreal for a rare moment unrestrained, rump-rattlin’ fun. Because that’s just the thing about Of Montreal live: They’re gonna make you have fun, kid, whether you want to or not.