Live: of Montreal @ The Highline Ballroom, NYC

Venue: Highline Ballroom, NYC
Date: 2/26/10
By: Dave Ugelow

of Montreal does not disappoint.  I often describe them as a strange band, but one that needs to be seen.  What seems to make them such a compelling live band is their ability to effectively blend catchy pop melodies with mesmerizing theatrics.  As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the January 26 show at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan was one to remember.  Complete with shocking guest appearances by Susan Sarandon (yes, that Susan Sarandon) and Solange Knowles (sister to self-proclaimed indie-music aficionado Beyonce Knowles), of Montreal really brought the proverbial noise.  But the celebs weren’t even the best part of the show (although, I won’t soon forget the image of Susan Sarandon dressed as a teacher punishing a man in a pig suit with a ruler).

The last time I had seen of Montreal was nearly two and a half years ago, before they released what proved to be their most ambitious and critically acclaimed album, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, in 2007, and the totally bizarre and enigmatic Skeletal Lamping in 2008.  To be honest, I’ve had a tough time relating the events of that night to anyone who wasn’t there.  The songs were great, the band wore costumes, and men wearing black full-body leotards crawled around stage fighting each other.  In short, it was weird.  Well on Tuesday night, I was ready for weird.

When I watched five figures walk on stage wearing animal masks, I wasn’t really surprised.  In fact, my only thought was that it might be difficult to hear lead singer Kevin Barnes channel his inner Bowie through that tiger head.  Suddenly, the band appeared and shoved aside these masked imposters.  The crowd erupted.

After a short intro, of Montreal jumped into the anthemic fan-favorite “Suffer For Fashion.”  For those unfamiliar with the band, this is the first track on Hissing Fauna, which is purported to be a biography of sorts in which Barnes tackles depression, loneliness, chemical imbalance, and marital problems.  In spite of the subject matter, when played live, the songs project a sense of enthusiasm, eagerly embraced by fans.  The crowd was perfectly comfortable smiling and dancing while Barnes crooned, “Lets all melt down together.”  The band was into it too.  Glances over at keyboardist Dottie Alexander revealed a wry smile that at once signified both her acknowledgment of this contradiction, and her gratitude.

The next song was “Mingusings,” off of the most recent album, Skeletal Lamping.  It begins with an infectious psychedelic-pop melody, but about half way through, after a short break down, the song morphs into a fast-paced, full-on dance party.  It is essentially the perfect live song.  I was especially excited to see this played and it really fired up the crowd.

Overall, the set was a mixture of new songs and old, and the energy remained high throughout the show.  “Disconnect the Dots” and “Lysergic Bliss” off of 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic both made an appearance, and the fans loved the nostalgia.  I have a sneaking suspicion that Barnes realizes how polarizing Skeletal Lamping can be (after all, the main character, Georgie Fruit, is forty-year-old black transgendered cross-dresser), and therefore tries to stick to the safer dance songs in the of Montreal catalog.  This doesn’t seem to be a problem, though, as there’s more than enough material for Barnes to choose from.  The band even played the rarely heard “Du Og Meg,” a B-side from Hissing Fauna.

Barnes brought out Solange Knowles to close the night with a rendition of “I Want You Back” by the Jackson Five.  For a band attempting to resurrect the pop sensibilities of the 60s and 70s, while incorporating modern indie flair, there was no more appropriate finale.

Technically, the band was superb.  They have a very unique way of transforming their songs.  They retain the basic melodies, solos and vocals, but add more than enough musically and visually to make you happy you shelled out the money for a ticket.  This is an underrated quality, especially now, when bands feel they can get away with basically reciting their album on stage for an hour.  of Montreal offers a complete performance.  In addition to the video screens and the costumes, the band featured a miniature green screen, a cardboard fish and dinosaur skull, a contraption resembling a medieval torture device, and the aforementioned pig men.

After all was said and done, I came away from this show feeling that I got to hear some of my favorite tunes, played perfectly, by one of the most prolific bands out there.  of Montreal is indeed strange, but I will never stop telling people that they need to see this band.

Below are some videos from the show and the setlist.

Susan Sarandon spanking pig men

w/Solange – “I Want You Back”

Susan Sarandon and streamers

Setlist:
01. Suffer For Fashion
02. Mingusings
03. Forecast Fascist Future
04. Du Og Meg
05. Lysergic Bliss
06. Disconnect The Dots
07. Spike The Senses
08. And I’ve Seen a Bloody Shadow
09. Plastis Wafers
10. St. Exquisite’s Confessions
11. Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse
12. Teenage Unicorn Fisting
13. An Eluardian Instance
14. Oslo In The Summertime
15. Everyday Feels Like Sunday
16. A Sentence Of Sorts In Kongsvinger
17. She’s a Rejecter
Encore:
18. For Our Elegant Caste
19. I Want You Back w/Solange  (Jackson Five Cover)

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