Of Montreal at Turner Hall
- MONDO LUCHA! celebrates fifth anniversary in high-flying style at Turner Hall
- David Sedaris goes off book, shines at Pabst Theater
- Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck offer glimpses of greatness at Riverside Theater
- John Hodgman, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman give Pabst Theater three shows for price of one
- Top 5 musical moments from Kenosha’s 2013 Ride of the Living Dead
Along with the other prominent psychedelic pop band of the day (The Flaming Lips), Of Montreal rose to relative fame with the help of extravagant visual aids and interactive props that frequently eclipse the music at live shows. This was the impression many fans came away with after the band’s last Milwaukee appearance—in a show dominated by material from the band’s underwhelming False Priest album, the ridiculous gimmicks were more memorable than the performance, but not nearly interesting enough to make for a good show. Frontman Kevin Barnes’ usual intensity was absent in favor of goofing off with various costumed weirdos, and the ostensible dance party failed to generate much excitement. Saturday night at Turner Hall, however, Barnes was all business, and a more judicious prop assault didn’t distract from a powerful set of music.
Part of the problem in 2010 was that Of Montreal got blown off the stage by opener Janelle Monáe; this time around, Barnes and company followed the bafflingly boring Wild Belle, who played a resoundingly bad set of reggae-inflected pop behind the whiny vocals of Natalie Bergman. Opener Foxygen was much more appropriate: primitive, shoegaze psychedelia with plenty of pizzazz—but the only plausible reason for Wild Belle’s presence on the bill was to make Of Montreal seem more interesting by contrast.
It worked. Although the beginning of the headliner’s set featured two tracks from the new rarities collection Daughter Of Cloud and an extended suite from 2008’s forgettable Skeletal Lamping, it all seemed remarkably fresh and energetic. Costumed extras passed a lengthy string of tubular balloons through the crowd, which eventually stalled at the glam hula hoop circle back by the soundboard. The best visual stunts involved people undulating inside a flexible canvas with trippy patterns projected onto it—nothing obnoxious, actually working with the music rather than trying to compensate for it.
Barnes continues to confound longtime fans by refusing to play anything pre-2004; the deepest he dug into the catalog was for a couple of The Sunlandic Twins tracks, but it was difficult to imagine any of the whimsical storytelling of old fitting into the modern version of the band anyway. Why he chose to completely ignore his latest album of new material, though, is a mystery. Paralytic Stalks is easily Of Montreal’s best album since 2005’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? It hasn’t sold as well as the previous few, but to give up on it this quickly suggests that Barnes may be preparing for another musical reinvention. As for Hissing Fauna, the band closed with six straight tracks from its magnum opus (including the encore), by far the best portion of the show. “A Sentence Of Sorts In Kongsvinger” and “Suffer For Fashion” have never sounded so vital and grand, and it was thrilling to watch these musicians dispense with extraneous stimuli and showcase what a ferocious rock band they can be. The bonus finale of “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal” was perfect—Queen meets Sonic Youth—a roiling crescendo of raw emotion, theatricality, and balls-out noise. There’s no telling where Barnes might go from here, but if this tour is the end of an era, he’s going out with the proverbial bang.