Sometimes I wonder how people perceive Of Montreal. When their new album came out, I was busy trouncing across Europe, so I didn’t get to hear it right away. That meant that when I got home friends and strangers alike were eagerly waiting to give me their mini-reviews. They all warned me that it’s a little “out there”—as if I’d expect anything less, or want it for that matter. The reason I like Of Montreal so much is that they always do something crazy, weird, and different.
Needless to say, I was anxious for the band to hit the stage, decked out and ready to party. When they did, the whole band looked like they had just walked out of some Roald Dahl tripped-out fantasy book, and it was lovely… in a demented kind of way. I’d heard before that Kevin Barnes and Co. do an excellent job of recreating the multilayered and eclectic sound of the albums live, and, indeed, songs with complicated sonic changes like “Lysergic Bliss” and “So Begins Our Alabee” were simply impressive.
Despite being a relatively small act and the fact that most of the band’s members holding day jobs to pay the bills, they were backed by three large televisions that played videos of animated band members doing everything from stroking an angel to flashing the old “Sega” logo – the later being an unmistakable confirmation of their retro roots. Like the images, the songs changed quickly and without warning. I found myself thinking that some of the new tunes sound like pumped-up versions of classics by the Cars, only to later hear the band go more Kinks-ey with “Will You Fetch Me.” Of course, I hate hate hate that my brain is set to do an automatic sound-match scan. As they played, I didn’t want to think about any of that who sounds like who stuff; I just wanted to dance.
The sound was tight, and, although you can’t help but lose some lushness live, songs like “Suffer for Fashion,” “The Party’s Crashing Me,” and especially the rocked-out “She’s A Rejector” absolutely popped. These songs make you move: they are seductive and full of life—albeit an eccentric, nonsensical kind.
Barnes has an easy, comfortable stage presence, slithering around in tight pants and short shorts with a sexually ambiguous charm. While an Of Montreal show could never be confused with another, the band acts like there’s absolutely nothing out of the ordinary going on. No one bats an eye, for instance, when Barnes has to literally climb a ladder to get into a giant costume.
A friend of mine who is a teacher has complained that his students all draw these dark, depressing images in class. I suggested it’s the result of all that emo music out there, that his students spend too much time immersed in the subtle negativity of bands like Good Charlotte, My Chemical Romance, and Fall Out Boy. When I suggested that they should switch to Of Montreal, he laughed, saying their parents would accuse him of putting them on LSD when they start turning in drawings of floating pink hippos. Fair enough, but would that be so bad? Listening to Of Montreal, and especially seeing them live, is probably as close as you can get to tripping out without actually doing drugs. Spend an hour or so with Of Montreal and you get high on life—there’s an anti-drug ad for you.
Not that the band doesn’t have its darker moments. Other highlights of the show were “Oslo in the Summertime”—a brooding, pulsing tale of the strange gloom bred from constant sunlight—during which keyboardist Dottie Alexander waved a Norwegian flag. Another darker standout was new song “She’s a Rejector,” the best song Franz Ferdinand could never hope to write. Besides letting Barnes show off a sexy modern-wave riff, he got to yelp with desperation after having been spurned by a lover who had left him bitter, wishing he could “pay some other girl to just walk up to her and hit her/ but I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!” Ok, so maybe everyone’s a little emo.
Still, I love how Barnes’ voice can move from a childish, high-pitched yelp to a smooth, buzzing croon and then back again. It makes you wonder what other tricks he’s got up his prolific, hot-pink sleeve.