Seeing Of Montreal is the feeling I’d imagine having if I were to walk inside a kaleidoscope after having smoked way too much mescaline laced with crushed-up diet pills from a bottle of unicorn blood. We are the polka-dots.
From the looks and sound and feel of Wednesday night's show, it is pretty clear that Of Montreal is trying to become something else. They are creating this paradigmatic separation between who they are as a band and who people perceived they were when they turned their song into that jingle for Outback. There is a difference now, and it can be felt in the entire production of the show. Lead man Kevin Barnes works as a sort of circus ring-leader, seamlessly transitioning between vocalist, maestro, guitar wizard, lead actor and lead actress. There is a pageantry to Of Montreal shows, and standing inside their vision makes one feel like one is hearing a carefully constructed soundtrack to a pulsing visual narrative. Because that’s what the show is about — the way it looks. It’s aesthetic cocaine.
There is a genius to Barnes, and the genius is tortured in such a way that it gives him the privilege of being an artist who cannot be a derivation of anyone who came before him. Nor can he be duplicated. The originality of his art is amazing, and the entire crowd got a huge helping of that Wednesday night at Warehouse Live. They opened with “Id Engager,” as I think they have this entire tour; and from the very beginning the audience knew it was going to be a different sort of night. The song has three minutes of loud, heavy and sometimes violent guitar and drum solos layered on top of what sound like monastic chants — it’s an uncomfortable experience, but I think that’s what Of Montreal is trying to become: anti-pop. “So Begins Our Alabee,” one of only three songs we got from The Sunlandic Twins, was second, a song so laced with symbolism that it’s often hard to listen to. It has been well documented that Barnes, rather than dealing with the responsibility of becoming a father (after his daughter, Alabee, was born), tried to kill himself. He sings, “Girl, I never want to be your friendly abject failure,” and it kind of makes me sad.
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Mostly, though, Of Montreal played songs from its new record, Skeletal Lamping, and almost every song was performed in front of a backdrop of an ongoing play. There was “For our Elegant Caste” where a tiger-masked actor pile-drove a shadow to the ground, only to be attacked and devoured by a dozen other shadows. Then they all disappeared. And there was “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse,” which gave us a mannequin in drag pose-off (the dude in the pink one-piece was the winner, in my opinion at least). “St. Exquisite’s Confessions” had Barnes dressed in papal gear singing about sucking the dick of a cruel, cruel city (Vatican City?) while a woman dressed as a nun was on her knees next to Barnes’ lap. Yikes.
But that’s what Of Montreal is — a band unconcerned with convention and entirely unaware of its place in the pantheon of indie rock deification. I think the highlight (and certainly the most shocking performance) of the night, though, was “Plastis Wafers.” It’s a song about sex. That’s it. The performance was a suicide scene — actually three different suicide scenes. While Barnes was singing “Lover face, I want to make you ejaculate until it’s no longer fun,” he was (pretending to) slit his wrist. When he sang, “Lover face, how your ass is pumping sweet licentious songs, lover face,” he had a (fake and huge) gun in his mouth. And when he sang, “Anyway we’re artifacts of demigodly zero logic denizens,” he was hanging (via carabiner clip) from a noose. It was beautifully put together and artistically inspiring, as was the whole night.
Finally our generation has its David Bowie. Kevin Barnes is the physical representation of an abstraction — a singular and performative force never seen before. Seeing him for the first time (and it always feels like the first time, regardless of how many times you’ve seen him before) is making sense of a rainbow. - Brandon Hernsberger