of Montreal throws a party at the Orpheum

A review of of Montreal at the Orpheum Theatre on October 30

, Staff

The tales spun from of Montreal concerts are legendary and on the short walk from& the Park Street T-station to the Orpheum Theatre, it was alreay clear. The concert-going kids and indie scenesters were easily discerned by their bright, tight costumes, face paint, head-bands and bandanas, and a remarkable number of vests. Halloween came a day early to Boston.

When it came time for of Montreal to take stage, the crowd rose from their seats as one and the palpable boiling anticipations erupted in screams and cheers. As twin drummers banged away and a double-neck guitar played "Id Engager", the single off their new Skeletal Lamping, a silhouetted screen rolled down center stage. The screen spun, and four golden robed and masked Buddhas walked a gold curtained sedan chair down stage. Out burst Kevin Barnes, mastermind of the group, and the circus began. Three screens on the back wall teamed with the rolling screen below to display flashy animations in the style of the new album’s cover art. The gold Buddhas danced around in unison, eventually disrobing to black leotards with glittering gold masks and pranced, twirled, and slid across the stage. The entire theater was instantly swept into excitement and glee.

Throughtout the onslaught of a show that followed, Barnes and his crew are remineded the Boston crowd what a show can really be like. So much occurred, so many things were presented to the audience, that exactly what song was playing was partially inconsequential. When you go to a party, what the DJ plays only matters insomuch that it keeps you dancing. The crowd never stopped, and there were never more than fifteen or so people visible sitting down. I first noticed the mezzanine balcony shaking during "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse", and by "Nonpareil of Favor" I was bracing for the floor’s seemingly inevitable collapse. The band never let up, nor did the festivities.

During "Triphallus, to Punctuate!", an old western card game turned into a brawl, complete with a prop bottle smashed over someone’s head. The back screens were used to create an old saloon feel, the animation on all three combining to form the upper level of such a place. Ski-masked and camo fatigue clad soldiers stalked the stage during "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games", and Barnes played the better part of a centaur for "Beware Our Nubile Miscreants" while some extras performed a highly sexualized ritualistic interpretation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These extras were part of the show, interacting and dancing with the band members all the way through. Barnes even used some of them as human mannequins during "Gallery Piece", making them grab each other inappropriately and kiss. They performed roles ranging from 70’s roller queens to animal-masked fops to giant papier-mâché creatures.
Barnes himself was more than just a front man. His costume changes, including a giant fanny pack and a blue sequenced shirt Neil Diamond would be jealous of, and entrances, like when he popped out of a flowered casket filled with shaving cream, all fed into the hysterical atmosphere the band was creating. Dressed as a cardinal, he entered on a throne for "St. Exquisite’s Confessions", a buxom nun in sexy leggings clinging to his leg. He was then stripped down to nothing more than a pair of golden undies. The climax of these strange costumes and theatrical tableaus was during "And I’ve Seen a Bloody Shadow" when a fully functioning gallows was rolled onto the stage. Now wearing a pink robe and slippers, Barnes was brought up to the gallows by extras in what looked like John McCain masks painted silver. As the band transitioned into, "Plastis Wafers", the unthinkable happened; the floor below Barnes dropped away, and their he dangled, hanging by his neck. Shock and awe bellowed from the audience members. Was this supposed to happen? Of course it was, and it wasn’t long before he was brought down and ducked into a golden (go figure) curtain to change. He came out in those same gold undies again, this time with a purple sash around his waist, and his naked body was promptly painted red by the extras.

Rarely was the party interrupted by speeches. Barnes spoke once, asking "Everyone having a good time tonight?" And after the clear and resounding ‘yes’, "Alright, let’s keep it going!" There was one break, and it’s easy to assume that Barnes and crew could use as many as they could get (they got brief ones while Barnes changed costumes), during which the audience joined in singing Happy Birthday to bassist Bryan Poole. He was given a cake ("That fucking cake is vegan", guitarist Davey Pierce assured him), which he shared with the crowd. Through a full mouth, he mumbled "Thank you. I’m honored to be with a beautiful family", and seemed happy to share in the moment with the Boston crowd.

The entire event (it was an event), was a full-on sensory overload. Barnes and his band are conscious of the fact that they are playing on a stage, and they use that potential to massive affect. The screens flashed distorted live images of the show, mannequin heads on sticks, and often created the setting for the activities occurring on the ground. The musicians roamed the stage, using all the levels they had created, and often switching instruments with one another. The lone failure was at the end, during "Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger"; two individuals in fully sequenced jumpsuits and capes and wearing animal masks (a cockatoo and a pig) attempted to spray the audience with feathers using air machines with large flashlights attached. The potential effect would have been sweet, but sadly the blowers didn’t want to blow.& Regardless, the concert was a circus. What does one do for an encore at such show? As Poole re-entered, he asked, "Hey Boston, is it ok if we play one or two more for ya?" Not surprisingly, no one refused, and the favor was returned by the popular "Gronlandic Edit" from the acclaimed release Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer. Next came "Oslo in the Summertime," and then something entirely different happened; The bright electro-pop sound (with often darken and twisted lyrics) was replaced by the grunge guitar riffs of Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit", a song the band has been pulling out a lot these days. It’s plausible it was just the nature of the song, but the energy of the room went through the roof and into the atmosphere, even at the last song of the night. Barnes ended with the classic guitar toss into the air, though you could tell he really wanted to smash it against an amp or two.&

The kind of show of Montreal presents isn’t for everyone. Heck, neither is their music. Barnes is no doubt a tormented genius, and his risqué themes and brash lyrics can be a turn off to some. The sexuality and avant-garde ideas present in of Montreal’s act are certainly going to offend some people, but the band still deserves massive amounts of credit. Too often bands find themselves slaves to the performance of songs for fans – fans come to the concerts because they like certain songs, and simply want to see those songs played especially for them. That’s showbiz; of Montreal are all about the show. Theirs is a party I imagine Hunter S. Thompson would have enjoyed, or at the least appreciated (can’t say if he would have felt the same about their music, however). For the two hours you are present with them in whatever venue they’re playing, they want you to be totally with them. Thus they create a world entirely their own, a whirlwind of mischief, fantasy, and shock. It pulls you in and strangles you, tossing you about, lifting you up and slamming you down, tickling you and licking your face. Whatever it is or was, it did its job.

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