Of Montreal’s studio work conjures great hope for the band’s live show. The Athens-based group is 10 albums deep with a profound and diverse discography. It mixes art with dance—fusing psychedelia and soul, funk and indie, twee-pop and R&B. Lead singer Kevin Barnes can sing in Venn diagrams of Prince, David Bowie, and James Mercer. The band’s most accessible music (songs such as “Gronlandic Edit,” “Gallery Piece,” and “Wraith Pinned To The Mist”—which was used in Outback Steakhouse commercials) features irresistible basslines; most of their albums, however, also have a couple experimental songs that respectfully wander past the five-minute barrier, held together by intriguing synth or involved percussion. Of Montreal’s most recent album, False Priest, is the most beat-driven yet. It features Solange (Beyonce’s indie-inclined sister) and Janelle Mona; the guitar wahs channel Curtis Mayfield, and that Of Montreal bass blends with Parliament funk. In short, it should have been a dance party at the TLA on Friday.
The sheer size of Of Montreal overwhelmed the stage as the band opened with a version of its lesser-known “L’age D’or.” It’s hard to avoid the comparison between the song’s namesake—a film by Salvador Dali—and the concert, both of which contained a surrealist, shocking, and ultimately disjointed plot. After following up with the concert staple “For Our Elegant Caste” (which briefly recaptured the audience), the band delved into theatrics that dominated the middle of the set. Most songs included skits performed by a gaggle of costumed non-musicians. “Oslo In The Summertime” featured a group of relatively well-choreographed dancers wearing what resembled Klu Klux Klan garb. Later, Barnes—dressed in drag—handed the mic to violinist K. Ishibashi, saying, “We’ve never done this before, but isn’t that what art is all about!?” (That art, by the way, ended up being Ishibashi’s senior recital piece, a hard-to-follow rap called “Just The Tip.”)
Things went downhill from there. The energy of “Sex Karma” was strong, but not strong enough to overcome the distraction of a Mexican wrestler (dressed in American flag spandex) who jumped through balloon hoops, held up wacky signs, and pumped his fists. “Holiday Call” was marred by a poorly rehearsed royal wedding: Skeletons brought the bride onstage, the prince wore a colonial wig, giant gingerbread men joined them, and everyone did a Russian folk dance (the Yablochko). Someone Barnes called “George Croony” did a Sinatra-esque number while sipping a martini alone onstage. Perhaps the whole affair was the result of countless hours’ worth of coordination and effort—but it felt like a series of hastily prepared skits performed by a high-school drama club. And, unfortunately, it was an extended low point that lasted the majority of the set. Clearly the band (and their mustachioed actor friends) had a blast, but even the hardcore fans up against the stage struggled to stay focused.
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