As Of Montreal wrap up their current tour of 2000+ seat venues in North America before heading over to Europe and Australia, a spot on Letterman brought Kevin Barnes and his troupe of musicians and actors to the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn for a small club performance. The Music Hall show was announced only a few days prior to the on-sale date, and it sold out in less than 45 seconds. The 550 or so die-hard fans that were lucky enough to hit refresh on their keyboards fast enough to get their tickets and stood through about thirty minutes of a backstage DJ set (as the Of Montreal prepared to take the stage).
Four golden Buddhas took the stage around 11:15pm and stood motionless for a few minutes before keyboardist Dottie Alexander, guitarist Bryan Poole (aka The Late B.P Helium,) multi-instrumentalist Jamey Huggins, bassist Davey Pierce and Drummer Ahmed Gallab took the stage. As the opening “Id Engager” bass line started (from their most recent LP Skelatal Lamping), Barnes threw open the back stage door and screamed the opening high-pitched “Ahhhhhyeaahhhh!” It was an non-stop party from that moment on.
Kevin Barnes wrote and played just about every note on his last two records, mostly recorded in the attic of his Athens, GA home (with the rest done in Norway). His dark, sexual brand of melodic pop translates perfectly to the stage. Every song had sketches to accompany them, involving a troupe of ninja actors with ever changing costumes and art props. If Barnes wasn’t stripping down to his gold-colored vinyl underwear held up by an over-sized purple belt, he was wearing a half fur coat or clergy dress.
A large projection screen was filled with the familiar artwork from Kevin Barnes’ brother David, with images that have graced the covers of this records and the six foot horse collages that accompany the Lamping vinyl. If that wasn’t enough, at one point during “Gallery Piece,” when he sings the line “I want to be your what’s happening,” Rerun and Raj from the 70s sitcom of the same name show up on the back screen to a roar of laughter from the crowd. It was just impossible not to be entertained by this show.
During “Plastic Wafers” the four actors with Buddha heads returned with sponges of washable red paint in their hands and began to lather up a near naked Barnes until he was entirely covered. As the song continued, the Buddhas turned to the audience and lathered up the faces of everyone that was up near the front of the stage (myself included). Audience participation was not optional and that continued until they closed their set with “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger”
When Kevin Barnes is on stage half naked or wearing his blue eyeshadow and matching sequence shirt over his white blouse, it’s easy to forget the early Elephant6 days where Barnes would sheepishly hide behind his acoustic guitar and sing his power-pop songs. I can only imagine what it must of been like in the Athens house that Barnes shared with Jeff Mangum, of Neutral Milk Hotel, and Will Hart and Bill Doss, both of Olivia Tremor Control. When Barnes finished writing 2004’s Satanic Panic, his breakaway from the traditional Elephant6 sound, he even considered changing the band name to close that chapter of music but decided it would be more interesting to carry a catalog that was more diverse. Diverse it is.
The sound was mixed well and warm tones were crisp. Barnes’ guitar playing was on point and the entire band was tight. As expected, the set was very Hissing Fauna are you the Destroyer? and Skeletal Lamping heavy with a few tracks off Sunlandic Twins and Satanic Panic. The show was a non-stop 2-hour set that featured a mind-blowing 30 songs.
Barnes would run off stage every 3rd or 4th song for costume changes (after throwing his outfit he was wearing into the crowd) and fans fought over a white mink, a pair of blue glasses or a sequenced jacket. For the last few songs he wore what looked like an old-time diner waitress uniform with a large “K” embroidered near the left shoulder. As Barnes walked off stage the audience waited for him to fling it into the audience as well, but as he walked off he smiled and commented “I just bought this one today, so I’m going to break it in a little.”
Of Montreal came out for a three song encore with a great version of “Gronlandic Edit” and “Oslo In The Summertime.” They have been closing with a different cover almost every show on this tour, and we were treated to a Barnes interpretation of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”
One moment that sums up the Of Montreal experience happened in-between songs when Barnes looked around for his cup of vodka and orange juice that was poured for him during one of the background performances. He found it laying near the drum kit where much of the stage performance action was going on. He looked into it then pulled his mouth away from the cup. He then asked the crowd, “who here is 21?” A fever of hands raised up, and he walked over and gave his cup to an enthusiastic fan. As the kid took a sip, Barnes commented, “I hope you like the taste of silver sparkles.”
Kevin Barnes channels the over-the-top transsexual/she-male Georgie Fruit, and it’s done so well that its hard to imagine Barnes being any different in real life. Much like a Flaming Lips show, the theatrics do not supersede the performance of the music — it only compliments it. There are not many artists that could pull this off without distracting the audience from the music, but its pure symmetry when it comes to Of Montreal.
I grabbed Dottie’s set list as she walked off stage.
Of Montreal – She’s A Rejector (Live @ Music Hall of Williamsburg)
Of Montreal – Gronlandic Edit (Live @ Music Hall of Williamsburg)