Of Montreal: A live review

The show as a whole was a strange psychedelic pop trip. It felt like Tame Impala meets Justice meets theatrical drag dance party. An Of Montreal concert is not something to be passed up. Of Montreal is a band that would satisfy and thrill anybody with an open mind. It seems hard to believe that a band could pack so many different punches into one show but Of Montreal makes it work.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this show. Instead of being in Columbus it was in Newark, Ohio about 45 minutes away. On the drive to the venue I wondered why such a strange band would be performing 45 minutes from a city. We listened to “Blind Night Errand” by Mount Kimbie before leaving the car to walk to the venue. Newark was very different than I expected. It felt like a small city with interesting architecture like a very brutalist, upside down looking building that I found out was the cities small claims court. 

We entered the venue and were very confused because we didn’t see any stage. The merchandise table was covered in small sculptures by the brother of the lead singer of Of Montreal, David Barnes. David is also the art director for the band. Most bands wouldn’t need an art director but this show was a work of art.

We soon learned that the actual venue was upstairs so we walked up. As soon as the band started playing I immediately understood why they had chosen this venue. They needed a lot of space on stage but also wall space extending beyond the stage for their projected visuals that juxtaposed the whole show. The band was slightly above the crowd but the crowd was able to surround the slightly circular stage. I reached out to the venue, Thirty One West, about how many tickets were sold but did not get a response. I would say it seemed like 150-200 people in a venue that could fit 500. The space was very cavernous and not even close to full but everyone in the crowd seemed ready for what they were about to experience. 
The performance started with 4 members of the band walking to the back of the stage, in partial darkness. They are reminiscent of Justice or S U R V I V E in their mannerisms and the sounds they start making. Throughout the show this quartet are the unsung heroes, never faltering in delivering hypnotic background noise. During many songs, the spotlight is on center stage and the theatrics that occur during each song, almost in an attempt to make these band members seem forgotten for the time being.

The first song is Wraith Pinned to the Mist (and Other Games), a poppy song that builds to catharsis and then takes off into Let’s Relate. “How do you identify?” coos a robotic voice over a strikingly modern mix of bright synthpop and surging rave. The question too feels very of its time, as ideas about gender and attraction are being overturned with Barnes dressed in a short miniskirt, cropped top and makeup and wig. During the song a masqueraded women in a leopard suit comes out with a whip and dances sexually with Barnes.  Halfway through the song two more dancers come out dressed as police officers wearing skull masks to come “arrest” the women. They finally restrain her when the song peaks and when the beat drops the police officers strip everything off to reveal nude bodysuits and everyone on stage is dancing. Everyone on stage looks genuinely happy. Below is the music video for the song. The video at the top of this article features some footage of this song also.

Throughout the show, even having ever heard about half the songs and only vaguely familiar with the rest it was impossible not to sing and dance. The crowd had more energy and passion than any crowd I’ve ever seen for such an unknown band. Every song seems like a new act in a play with dancers coming out in completely different costumes. Songs transition effortlessly into the next. Of Montreal’s discography is very diverse and each album has a different sound or musical influences. Barnes is always center stage usually with some instrument as, dancing sexually with a tambourine one song, next song jamming on a guitar. 

About halfway through the set the band played the second song off their most recent album, it’s different for girls. I could try to write about the song but I wouldn’t do it justice. Of Montreal’s website describes the song as:

‘Combining Daft Punk’s aptitude for groove with LCD Soundsystem’s wit—an endlessly quotable track that has Barnes outlining the dangers inherent in binary gendering: “It’s different for girls, from when they are children they’re de-personalized, aggressively objectified…” and later Barnes sings “It’s different for girls, they are mercurial creatures, not a masculine dissonance or sexual currency”. The song is less feminine anthem and more pop exegesis of societal codes. “though some women are demons all of them are God”. Indeed.’

During the song Barnes danced very femininely, at one point lifting his mini skirt uncomfortably high almost flashing the crowd. Eventually, the dancers come out wearing old fashioned dresses and Star Wars masks decorated in the style of Barne’s sculptures. At the peak of the song the dancers throw confetti into the crowd and a massive dance party a-la-tame impala ensues. Below is a video of all the footage from the concert, including a ten second clip of the confetti dance party 

After some chaos and more dancing comes Of Montreal’s psychedelic song Grolandic Edit a song which is based on Barne’s disdain for religion in the modern world and begins with the line “Nihilists with good imaginations” before some more lyrical genius insues. The set closes with A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger . In the darkness the noise is deafening, the crowd roars for an encore eventually breaking into rhythmic stomping. Eventually dressed the band comes out to finish with two more songs, a Chinese parade dragon comes on stage and shoots feathers out of its mouth at one more moment of catharsis then the show is over for good.