Thursday, February 26, 2009

Concert review: Of Montreal, Auckland, February 25

PhotobucketOne of my favorite bands I've discovered in the last couple of years is the decidedly oddball Of Montreal. A lot of bands like to say they're "unique" and don't fit in one genre, but Of Montreal actually doesn't. "Techno-glam disco punk rock" might be the best quick summary -- frontman Kevin Barnes is like a cross between Ziggy Stardust Bowie, Prince, Kraftwerk and George Clinton. The band made their first New Zealand appearance last night, and it was a delightful circus. It was the first show I've ever seen that featured an encore performed by a man in a tiger mask roaring and a man in a dinosaur mask wearing a Superman costume doing drum solos.

Yeah. That kind of show.

Of Montreal didn't get going till nearly 11:30 (thank god I had a day off), and there were two opening bands beforehand, notably the Kiwi act Ruby Suns, who had a great heavy drum world-fusion thing going. Before Of Montreal took the stage, the tiger-man came out to rev up the crowd, and it was clear the party was on. For the next 90 minutes or so, Barnes & co. had a synth-pop and fuzz-guitar blast romping through their tunes - complete with animal masks!

PhotobucketOf Monreal's 2006 disc "Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?" is one of my favorite albums of this decade, "the sound of a nervous breakdown with a beat you can dance to" as I once wrote. Last year's "Skeletal Lamping" is nearly as good, full of slick and sweaty sex-obssessed funk jams that owe a lot to Prince. Barnes and co. are famous for an elaborate stage show, and they didn't disappoint -- the show exploded into life with "And I've Seen A Bloody Shadow," a lusty confessional song that featured the band's burly roadie, a dead ringer for Freddie Mercury, coming on stage in a Catholic cassock to "bless" the band, then tearing off his cassock and skullcap to reveal devil horns and muscles like the Hulk, all while the band blasted away. Strange costumes kept coming and going all night. It's the kind of theatrics that come close to pretension, but there's a kind of goofy lightheartedness to Of Montreal's masks and mock stage fights that make it work.

PhotobucketThe Kings Arms is a pretty tiny venue so I wasn't sure how the band's stageshow would come off -- although it was obviously pretty cramped for space and a lot of the bigger elements I've seen in live videos couldn't come off, it still worked well and it was great to see the band so close.

I was really glad to hear so much off "Hissing Fauna," such as the mournful 80s-pop anthem "Heimsdalgate Like a Promethean Curse" (have I mentioned yet that Barnes favors really odd titles?), the several-songs-in-one romp "Bunny Ain't No Kind Of Rider" and "Gronlandic Edit" (hearing the marvelous high note harmonies in that songs live was terrific). The densely produced songs come off well live, with the excellent band swerving between synth-based dance beats and fuzzed-out walls of guitar that sound like a Sonic Youth solo. Barnes was a sly and intensely androgynous frontman, rarely "leaving character" but his rock and roll circus married hooky pop with endearing showmanship.

For a fairly accurate sample of the band's weirdly addictive coolness (and to get an idea if they're your cup of tea or not), here's the video for "Grondlandic Edit." Do not watch whilst on acid.

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