April 6, 2012 in Show Reviews
First on the opening bill was Kishi Bashi, a member of Barnes’ touring band who also writes and releases music under his own name. His songs consist of looped phrases of violin and vocals which coalesce into gorgeous and catchy pop songs. His set reminded me more than a little of Andrew Bird, if he were to replace the ethereal whistling with beat-boxing. Bashi was a friendly and funny presence on stage, and the crowd was in the palm of his hand from the first song. It’s rare to see a crowd really engage with an opener, but Bashi was an impressive enough performer to make it happen. He’ll return to Boston in May for a show with the Barr Brothers at Brighton Music Hall, and I liked him enough that I just might have to see him again.
Up next was Loney, Dear, who didn’t fare quite as well as Bashi with the crowd. Loney, Dear is the alter-ego of Swedish multi-instrumentalist Emil Svanängen, who performed his atmospheric folk ballads backed only by a barely-audible accordionist. The set was quiet and low-key, and a serious comedown from the energy brought to the stage by Bashi a few minutes earlier. Svanängen’s songs were pleasant enough, and quite pretty at times, but were lacking in variety or staying power. I could see myself enjoying Loney, Dear in a different context, but they felt like a serious mismatch for this particular show.
Once Loney, Dear’s equipment had been moved offstage, the true scale of Of Montreal’s live show began to make itself known. There were seemingly enough instruments to occupy a small, weird orchestra. A total of eight musicians, including Barnes, eventually made their way to the stage. They were joined by a small team of people in full-body Spandex suits reminiscent of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia‘s green man. My friends and I took to referring to them as ‘the ninjas’ for the remainder of the evening, seeing as the first round of suits were all black.
The show opened with Barnes sitting at his keyboard, delivering the spoken intro to Paralyic Stalks‘ opening track ‘Gelid Ascent.’ As the song exploded into a full-band affair, the aforementioned ninjas stood at the front of the stage and emptied enormous plastic bags filled with white balloons into the crowd. Yep, we were at an Of Montreal show.
The band has long been known for its theatrically minded live shows, which have, at various points in the past, included a naked Kevin Barnes and an actual live horse (not at the same time, thankfully). Barnes and cohorts have long stood accused of prizing that theatricality over the actual performance of their music. Having now experienced the madness firsthand, I can confirm that that is not the case. The weirdness was out in full-force, but the songs sounded fantastic. Even cuts from my less-loved Of Montreal records (there was a surprisingly high quota of Skeletal Lamping songs) translated perfectly in a live context.
The crowd seemed enamored by every song choice, new or old, but the response was especially ecstatic for material from 2007′s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Hissing Fauna is still critically regarded as Of Montreal’s crowning achievement, and there was little doubt that most people in the room on Sunday night felt the same way. ‘She’s A Rejector,’ ‘Gronlandic Edit’ and ‘Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse’ produced the most danceable concert moments I’ve experienced since last year’s LCD Soundsystem farewell show. The rest of the set list was lighter on Paralytic Stalks than I expected, but did include highlights ‘We Will Commit Wolf Murder’ and the gorgeous, set-closing piano ballad from the end of ‘Authentic Pyrrhic Remission.’
Interestingly, performances of almost all of the new songs saw Barnes seated behind his keyboard, rather than standing with a guitar or strutting about the stage unencumbered as he did for most older tracks. I think that goes some way toward demonstrating how much Paralytic Stalks differs from its immediate predecessors. Those songs felt personal in a different way than the rest of the set, and Barnes performed them with a fitting sense of reserve. He certainly seemed to be having a blast the rest of the time though, engaging with the audience and cavorting with the variously costumed bodysuit people. Pig masks, gas masks, human projection screens, female boxing-monsters and some sort of creature with freakishly over-sized limbs were all employed throughout the night. The whole affair was certainly over-the-top, but it was also undeniably unpredictable and fascinating. And hey, the songs weren’t half-bad either. Say what you must about the last few Of Montreal albums, but no one can accuse this band of not knowing how to entertain.