By Andrew Fraley
Semi-nude atop his rock-and-roll stallion, Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes marshaled the audience into a frenetic frenzy of fanaticism. The psychedelic indie-pop supergroup played a rousing show on October 10 to accompany the October 21 release of their new studio album, Skeletal Lamping.
Formed in 1997 in Athens, Georgia, Of Montreal hit the scene with their debut album, Cherry Peel. Part of The Elephant Six—the indie rock collective responsible for some of the most innovative bands of the late 90s—the band has released nine albums since their inception eleven years ago. The group moved out of obscurity and into the mainstream in 2005 with their acclaimed album, The Sunlandic Twins. Their song, “Wraith Pinned To The Mist (And Other Games)” will forever be immortalized, for better or worse, as the Outback Steakhouse song. This indie faux pas aside, the band continued unfazed, releasing 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? Widely regarded as one of the best albums of last year—certainly one of my favorites—Hissing Fauna was a brilliant concept album. The album chronicles the transformation of Barnes into his alter ego stage persona, Georgia Peach. The juxtaposition of dark, depressing lyrics with catchy pop melodies, along with its thematic, transformative progression, made the album a pinnacle of the band’s career. How would Skeletal Lamping stack up to such excellence?
Skeletal Lamping, ultimately, can’t really be compared to Hissing Fauna or Sunlandic Twins. The album is almost a complete departure from the established style of their previous two albums. While the previous two albums had a certain cohesion to them, Skeletal Lamping seems to bounce all over the place. It contains fifteen tracks, and many tracks contain multiple parts. Styles ranging from 70s-style electro-funk to hyperbolic tweak give the album its disparate feel. Lamping gives the impression of a “fuck you” to their familiar structure. At first I didn’t like this album too much. As I’ve listened to it more, however, it’s started to grow on me. I still prefer Hissing Fauna and Twins; there is no “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse” or “Wraith Pinned The Mist” to give Skeletal Lamping its stand-apart sense. It is definitely worth listening to, for its innovation and directional change.
The best thing about Of Montreal, however, will forever remain their live performances. They put on more than just rock shows; they put on vaudevillian theatrics. October 10 was no different. At the Roseland Ballroom in the heart of midtown Manhattan, Of Montreal came on after the opening band, Love Is All. The Swedish pop-indie punk band played on some very overloaded audio equipment. They were very shrill. The lead singer, Josephine Olausson, seemed an amalgamation of numerous female indie vocalists; she never seemed to exceed any one of them, though. She reminded me of Karen O’s goofy Swedish cousin. Their set was, for the most part, unremarkable (I can’t even remember the famous 80’s pop cover they played), but who ever comes to see the opening act? Of Montreal was the main attraction and they did not disappoint.
Entering the tiered stage—the two drum kits, the bassists, backing guitars and keyboards all played on elevated platforms—through a rotating screen in the middle, the band began their two-hour, unrelenting set. Accompanying the band was a troupe of dancers and stagehands to aid in Barnes’ theatrics. Dressing up as different characters, the stagehands, along with two projection screens, helped create a thematic presence that changed with the songs. Ranging from the bizarre—a Mayan statue theme for “She’s A Rejecter”—to the surreal—an anthropomorphic tiger in a white jacket getting beat up by masked stagehands—the atmosphere flowed energetically throughout the show. At one point, Barnes stripped dwon to his underwear and mounted an actual horse. Why it didn’t freak out at this loud rock concert, I’m not sure. It must have been sedated or something. Barnes would later dress up as a centaur. He was also carried out for the last song in a coffin filled with shaving cream. It was a totally insane, wacky and brilliant concert.
At the end of the concert, before the encore, the band had the audience do a chant about pizza. “The best so far has been in Asheville,” said one of the drummers. They never said if we were louder but I’d like to think we were.