Of Montreal pulls out the stops

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The second Kevin Barnes tore off the black hoodie lined with green LED lights to reveal the first of his seven elaborate outfits, the crowd had no doubt this show was going to be special.

The Ready Room, located in the heart of The Grove, an area of town known for being LGBTQ-friendly, was the perfect backdrop for of Montreal’s new album, “Innocence Reaches.” The inviting venue helped to house a crowd that was clearly anticipating the show that of Montreal ended up giving. The crowd was extremely diverse, from middle-aged married couples drinking PBR at the high-top bar tables in the back to girls in their twenties with face glitter making their way to the spacious-enough-to-dance front row, and even a singular “Make America Great Again” hat. Maybe it was the autumn equinox in effect on that September night, or maybe it was just an uber-positive crowd, but this specific group of people had come to this show hopeful to experience something new — a kind of hopeful anticipation to see just how out-there of an experience of Montreal would no doubt deliver.

An of Montreal performance is a SHOW, not just a concert. Visuals behind the stage on three screens, the constant flow from one out- fit to the next by lead singer Barnes, the interruption of various characters dancing flamboyantly around the stage, the sounds of “Innocence Reaches” sprinkled through a setlist complied by a band with thirteen other albums to choose from, and the lyrics of such songs being guided into wondering ears. All these components provide the layers that paint this band’s performance as a clearly thought-out work of art.

The stage production was the first clue as to how this show was going to grab the audience members’ concept of gender and overall normality and turn it completely upside down. With one large screen behind the band, and two circle screens, one on each side of the main screen, the band told a story that aligned with the songs they performed. Animated faces of 1960s housewives rotated on the circle screens — the same screens that had blinking eyes and bizarre renditions of planet earth — while the main screen focused on nothing particular, from dolls to gender signs, to mouths and 1970s style wrapping paper. There was no doubt in this intimate crowd that this band was not going to hold back.

With this backdrop that gave psychedelic feelings mixed with a mockery of gender and their roles, those onstage only perpetuated this awesome environmental invitation to think outside of the box. Barnes remained in the front and center of the stage, jumping back and forth after grabbing his guitar and amping up the crowd with a casual-yet-standout phrase “I need my freedom!” The stage theatrics included two figures dancing around in typical 1960s garb with electric colored afros and female masks, samurai figures fake fighting, tall ghost looking figures with candy skull heads to top them, forms with huge wings that caught the stage projections meant for the screens, someone wearing a Donald Trump mask while dressed in a phallic costume, a pride flag and an American flag embracing, and police with wrestling masks on. These inclusions in the performance not only kept the crowd entertained but also wondering what could possibly come next (a giant faux opossum operated by two people inside of it walked across the stage at one point).

While a review on Barnes would write itself, he has never been more eccentric. After taking off his hoodie he entered the stage in, he revealed a burnt orange Mumu with a gold ornate feminine hat and began the show with “it’s different for girls,” making quite the opening statement that he was going to do whatever he so pleased as long as he was on stage. Tis song struck a major cord while Barnes buzzed the lyric “it’s different” into the crowd’s ears, who were beginning to understand just how different this band’s show would be from any other concert one may have attended prior.

Of Montreal performed exactly half of their twelve-song album “Innocence Reaches,” starting with “it’s different for girls” to “let’s relate,” eventually standing out with “my fair lady,” a crowd favorite by hitting “a sport and a past time”, “trashed exes”, “ambassador bridge” and ending where they began with “it’s different for girls” a second time. They played older hits such as “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games,” as well as “A Sentence of Sorts In Kongsvinger” and played an encore to an enthusiastic crowd with little need for convincing via applause. The four songs following the main set included a mashup rendition of “The Man Who Sold the World” and “1999”. This not only gave a special tribute to two of of Montreal’s accredited musical influencers, David Bowie and Prince, but also subtly brought up the idea of two other performers who often toyed around with the idea of gender identity. During the performance of “my fair lady”, Barnes switched up the lyrics. The original lyric recorded for the album was “I have to give all the love that was meant for you to some other girl” but during the show was performed live as “I have to give all the love that was meant for you to somebody else.” This persistence of openness gives the audience the ability to insert themselves into the song and think in more loose terms, a sense of freedom to listen and embrace oneself during the show, and even after.

Of Montreal’s new song, “a sport and a pastime,” contains the powerful line “I want to lose my identity, I want to become one with you” and gives the listener the feeling of confusion and ever-changing self identification. These words, paired with the theatrics of Barnes’ outfits, the random character appearances and the overall sound of the band itself created a whole other universe in which this show was the norm, and the norm was refreshingly inclusive and special to anyone who wanted to be a part.