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Live Review: Of Montreal at the Grand Ballroom, San Francisco

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Nov 22, 2008 | Comments (7)

Attention all those who saw Of Montreal last night:

Next time your parents tell you how they saw David Bowie, or your sister tells you about seeing the Flaming Lips, or your friend’s dad keeps talking about Genesis or your dumb uncle won’t stop going on and on about Gwar or Mr. Bungle, you now have your response.

“You know what?” you can say. “Big fuckin’ deal, because I saw Of Montreal.”

There’s no need to explain it. No need to intellectualize it, or try to extrapolate some deep cultural meaning over theatre’s role in art. Of Montreal is just a damn good mind-blowing time, and easily the best entertainment you can get for $22.50. Even if you had to pay $100 on Craigslist for a ticket in these last couple weeks, you still got your money’s worth.

To everyone else: Look up their tour schedule. Drive to the next town. Call all your friends in upcoming cities and tell them to go. At all costs.

If you haven’t already heard, here’s the deal: Of Montreal’s Skeletal Lamping tour consists of a million costume changes, a non-stop reel of theatrical vignettes, a multi-leveled set centered by a moving carousel, a psychedelic lightshow, hundreds of props and dozens of instruments. Somewhere in the middle of all this is the band.

There’s buddhas, pigs, ninjas, a tiger, a roller-derby girl, a bikini beach party, a ’20s saloon scene, a pope, a nun, a gallows hanging, a coffin filled with shaving cream, guerillas wielding machine guns, a ghetto-blaster disco mamma, a two-man horse, devils who hand-paint the audience red, a beast with oversized arms and legs, a large eagle, and crazy machines that blow feathers all over everyone at the end.

It’s not pretentious, or juvenile, or mawkish or overly corny. It’s an utterly jaw-dropping culmination of the most basic human impulse to masquerade. Everyone who’s ever been in a band knows the feeling of seeing a funny shirt in a thrift store and thinking, “Cool! I’ll wear this on stage!” Take that impulse and multiply it by twelve bajillion, and that’s what Of Montreal’s tour is like.

Musically, the band was completely on point last night, and the set represented their two most recent albums, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? and Skeletal Lamping. Kevin Barnes’ singing—with pitch-perfect harmonies by Bryan Poole—was unwavering, even on the more challenging tunes like “Gronlandic Edit” and “Wicked Wisdom,” and a solo upright piano rendering of “Touched Something’s Hollow” gave a poignant break from the nonstop thrust of “An Eluardian Distance” and “Gallery Piece.”

The nearly two-hour performance ended with Of Montreal wailing through a ridiculous no-holds barred, everyone-on-stage cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and the sentiment of “entertain us” was never more apt.

“Thank you, San Francisco!” said a glad, exhausted Kevin Barnes at the end of the show. “Thank you for letting us be ourselves.”

If you did not have a permanent smile on your face, or if you did not dance, or if you did not scream your lungs out, then you might want to check your pulse and make sure you’re actually alive. The shit was nuts, and one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

More photos below.

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