Of Montreal at First Avenue, 3/27/12

Of Montreal
First Avenue
March 27, 2012

Does Kevin Barnes take himself seriously?

No, that's not a reference to the seizure-inducing light show that he brought to town last night with his band, Of Montreal. In fact, the elaborate stage setup, with all the bright lights, flashing colors, and masked men jumping into the crowd wearing leotards, was quite entertaining, no matter how relentlessly it attacked the senses.

The real question is whether Barnes takes what he says seriously. If he does, then the guy seriously needs to lighten up.

For most of last night's all-ages show in the Mainroom, Barnes showed up with white pants and a bright blue suit coat, plus eyeliner to match. He had no fewer than six musicians in tow, including a bare-chested guitarist with mutton chops, a saxophonist, and a keyboardist. The make-up and outfits were all very androgynous, and Barnes played it up with lots of dance moves and crotch grabs. Everything about it suggested it should have been a fun night--right down to the music itself.

Of Montreal at First Avenue, 3/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

The problem was that everything Barnes kept saying was a total drag. The songs drew heavily from Of Montreal's last three albums, which have of course all been a far cry from the more spritely, light-hearted songs that first made the band popular. Ironically, to the most part last night's set felt celebratory, and when the synth dropped in from time to time, it felt like it could have been straight out of Satanic Panic.

But Barnes sounded like an emotional train wreck. Through most of his songs, he seemed to be wallowing in self-pity and throwing out accusations; lines like "I'm killing myself but it's not suicide" and "I want to get fucked up tonight and tell you how I feel" just felt onerous and downright depressing. If he was serious about what he was saying, then you kind of have to worry about the guy.

Of Montreal at First Avenue, 3/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Here's the thing, though: Songs like "Spiteful Intervention" or "Wicked Wisdom" aren't as far a cry from Barnes' earlier work as they might seem. An album like Cherry Peel might have seemed quaint for all its songs about unrequited love, but when you look at the Of Montreal catalog as a whole you get a picture of a person with a seriously skewed view of relationships -- one that's naive, self-absorbed, and at it's worst, recklessly immature, even childish. And that has nothing to do with Barnes' divorce, or his supposedly "discovering sex."
Luckily, Barnes' own personal issues didn't spoil the evening, even if they did help make things more bizarre and sometimes disorienting. The crowd most definitely got into the proceedings, singing along and dancing no matter what the song or the subject. (It helped that, after releasing dozens of white balloons into the audience, the men in the jumpsuits dove into the room several times to crowd surf. Amazingly, one made it all the way up to the balcony.)

Of Montreal at First Avenue, 3/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Then, during the encore, the place really lit up as the songs blended into one massive dance medley, powered forward by throbbing bass. The whole main floor was a sea of waving hands, and for those last few minutes, the whole show was swept up by the sheer joy of the music--and, thankfully, it drowned out even Barnes.

Critic's Bias: I first got into Of Montreal almost ten years ago, but they lost me with Georgie Fruit.

The Crowd: The all-ages folks were packed onto the main floor, while the older kids drank upstairs.

Overheard in the Crowd: People were talking?

Gelid Ascent
Spiteful Intervention
Requiem for O.M.M.
Forecast Fascist Future
St. Exquisite's Confessions
Famine Affair
You Do Mutilate?
Dour Percentage
We Will Commit Wolf Murder
She's a Rejector
No Conclusion
Nonpareil of Favor
Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse
Authentic Pyrrhic Remission

Gallery Piece
Women's Studies Victims
Id Engager
Gronlandic Edit
A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger

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