“It’s time to welcome to the stage the only man born of penis, not vagina,” Of Montreal’s luchador MC wailed before the crowd at The Middle East. A bizarre introduction for a bizarre show — only what one could expect from the king of modern psychedelia.
Based on the evidence presented at the Of Montreal show on Oct. 26, I am fully convinced that band kingpin Kevin Barnes attempted to induce a mild psychosis on the crowd that Saturday night, and just in time for Halloween.
Georgia-based band Of Montreal has always been recognized as a peculiar group — each of the band’s albums involves long-winded lyrics about things like BDSM, with accompanying upbeat, funky indie rock riffs. But Barnes outdid himself for Of Montreal’s fall tour.
When opening act Surface to the Air Missive graced the stage in their ironically frumpy sweaters, the band-members humbly announced that they were “going to play some music” before diving right in. From one indie-rock jam sequence to a Thin Lizzie cover, Surface to the Air Missive performed much like students — though talented they appeared more interested in showing off each members’ skills than developing a distinct sound.
The costume-adorned Of Montreal strolled onstage and launched right into “Triumph of Disintegration,” the beachy-meets-’60s rock hit from the band’s newest album, Lousy with Sylvianbriar. Breaking the hipster rock stereotype of a humorless crowd, the audience immediately began grooving to the R&B “ooh-oohs,” swaying to the anthem-like chorus and squealing when the masked, stilted giants in white robes trooped onto the stage and held up two white disks, catching the trippy prints projected from the light booth. Before the audience could even question the oddity of these two white visitors, Barnes turned up the ‘weird’ of his show with more strange characters and more strange projections.
After playing the campy “She Ain’t Speaking Now,” another highlight of Sylvianbriar, the band moved on to a funky favorite from 2010’s False Priest, “You Do Mutilate,” with samples from Parliament, moments of ghoulish spoken word and the return of the white ghosts. Of Montreal quickly switched genres with “Belle Glade Missionaries,” a mild-mannered rockabilly song about religious manipulation, before reintroducing the crowd to the sexually charged 2008 album, Skeletal Lamping, in full-powered falsetto.
“We can do it soft core if you want, but you should know I take it both ways,” Barnes warned the audience. His warning came as no surprise, and the audience erupted into squeals that resembled those of the man interpretive dancing onstage in a nude bodysuit and a pig mask.
A refreshing moment for anyone unprepared for the trippiness of an Of Montreal show came when the band then played the most iconic song of their career: the bubbly “Wraith Pinned to the Mist.” The audience got to pretend they “didn’t exist” for a blissful four minutes before Barnes, accompanied by two human-sized jellyfish, introduced his “Aluminum Crown,” a single only played live twice before the show at The Middle East. Barnes then promptly killed the mood with a lethargic, Sylvia Plath-inspired “Colossus.”
“Your mother hung herself in the National Theater when she was four months pregnant with your sister who would have been 13 years old today/ Does that make you feel any less alone in the world?” So much for bubbly.
Barnes then let female vocalist Rebecca Cash take the spotlight for her mournful ballad “Raindrop in my Skull,” which fell flat. Cash’s voice is too breathy, too forgettable, and it easily disappeared into the Of Montreal ether.
After a revival of the crowd with the helpfully light, upbeat and almost catchy rock of “Coquet Coquette,” Of Montreal brought the sexy disco-funk of Skeletal Lamping back for the three-song arc of the show, beginning with the theatrical “And I’ve Seen a Bloody Shadow.”
The two ghosts returned with a large mirror and a woman whose face was covered in a golden scarf. Barnes removed the woman’s scarf and the two stared into the mirror longingly as he sang, “How can I function when there’s no more Apollonian beauty to behold?” Perhaps a little much, but it would not be Of Montreal otherwise.
Of Montreal then brought sexy back with its “Plastis Wafers,” giving a straight ‘70s disco vibe and uncomfortably direct lyrics. Barnes stroked the face of audience members, making their “whole bodies blush” the way he promised them he would.
Of Montreal then broke it down for one of its most soulful numbers, “St. Exquisite’s Confessions.” It was the last break the audience got before the band ended the show with two of its biggest hits.
During the cool, electro-chic “Oslo in the Summertime,” Barnes ran off stage and re-emerged in a white sheet. After covering the white ghosts and a man dressed in male bondage with sheets of cellophane, Barnes stood on the back of the black bodysuited man, who had gotten on all fours, as his tall ghostly friends stood on either side. They waved the sheets of cellophane, and suddenly Barnes became a psychedelic butterfly. The band followed “Oslo” with the happy-go-lucky “Hemidalsgate like a Promethean Curse,” an energetic celebration of “chemicals.” Spurting feathers into the crowd, the band left the stage for a brief period of time, until the friendly luchador rejoined the cheering crowd.
“I want you to lick everyone in the audience!” he cried with glee. “No… Don’t lick…” And just like that, Of Montreal was back with an encore, complete with colorful humans in lizard masks and bodysuits surfing the crowd.
“I want to try a communal thing,” Barnes said. He had the audience sing notes until the members of the crowd, one by one, realized what they were singing. The staggered screams from the audience faded into “Gronlandic Exit,” the hit of 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? The show ended with another album favorite, “She’s a Rejector.”
Of Montreal is a psychotic band, abruptly jumping from genre to genre with highbrow lyrics in one song and beautifully simplistic lyrics in the next. One song seeps with implied commentary and the next stings with unexpected candor. Kevin Barnes is a hipster’s answer to glam rock, a queer David Byrne, elusive of genre yet assured in sound. Of Montreal creates a paradise for the weirdo, and this Halloween show is no exception. It just felt more appropriate than usual.