Of Montreal, September 23, 2010, First Avenue

Posted on September 24, 2010 by

So what’s it all about, Alfie? Strobe lights, feathers, giant puppets…Janelle Monae, Prince, a sell-out crowd….Ninjas, angels, body suits…Maybe it’s best not to ask.

As I looked at the crowded dance floor, everybody else was bobbing up and down. They were doing the new millennium pogo, keeping their collective eye on front man Kevin Barnes. He was looking like a bad Tinkerbell at a drag show, but sounding like Prince and David Bowie at the same time. As he swayed, spun and shimmied across the stage, he was attacked by ninjas, guarded by angels, confronted skull heads wearing pajamas, but he still managed to get his groove on.

I would expect nothing less from a performance by Of Montreal. It is a spectacle. It falls somewhere between Babylon and Neverland. There’s fear and pleasure, conflict and harmony, all assembled in a tenth grade talent show of found objects-turned-stage props that are telling a story beyond the music. Why does Mr. Barnes ride out on a giant messohippian like creature, singing the next number. Is it just so because he can? It’s like, ‘I’ve got this giant ball. Let’s put a wig on it. You grab that old dragon tail over there and we’ll get some of mom’s sheets and make a vaudevillian horse.’

The performance is a time to suspend beliefs. Check your preconceptions at the door and enjoy this ninety-minute acid trip of dance grooves. Don’t question the primitive skull headed creatures wearing pajamas. Don’t ask why there are beautiful bodies with pig heads. Don’t reason the dancers with their flowing robes, straight out of a Busby Berkeley musical. And do not solve the mystery of the fish heads with steel-skeletal legs carrying laser rifles. This has nothing to do with what’s on your desk, what’s on your oven or what’s in your pocket. Welcome the parallel universe.

What I do know is Kevin Barnes and Of Montreal have musical heroes. They wear them on their sleeves, masks, headbands and body suits. He’s definitely not as agile as Prince once was, but his love of the groove and a voice that can nag, brag and reach a falsetto are reminiscent of the Purple One (who was in attendance at that evening). But that voice can also morph into David Bowie, when the dance beats turn more toward the rock and glam side of life, complete with make-up and more than enough stage props to boot. All this is done with an eighties keyboard backdrop laced with beats, licks, riffs and some electric violin while they play songs named, “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse,” or “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger,” titles you’d have to dig into the recesses Barne’s brain or blow up a Wikipedia think center to find the answers. To enjoy it all, rely on the reptilian brain and put the frontal lobes on coast for the night.

So before the encore, you’re left feeling pretty happy but not really knowing why. You just kind of accept the performance art you witnessed and smile. So what do they do for an encore? The answer is, a Michael Jackson medley of “Thriller, Wanna Be Startin’ Something, and P.Y.T.” And for some reason, everything made sense after that. What is the difference between a spectacle that you understand and one that does not follow reason? What’s the difference between one white glove and a black and white-checkered body suit? They’re both grand but in different contexts. It’s all pop music and pop art. An Of Montreal concert is the safest acid trip on earth.

A, but with reservations…I’m still lacking the feeling of trust. And it’s best to take a trip with someone you trust.

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