Some artists have gimmicks, flashy light shows and explosions of confetti. Some treat live concerts as chances to communicate directly with their audience, and strip down their performances to focus solely on their songs. And then there’s of Montreal, whose incredible showmanship and psychedelic blend of indie rock and art pop inextricably combines music and performance art in a way that demands to be experienced.
Lead singer Kevin Barnes has been experimenting with his musical style for the past twenty years, pulling influences from funk, glam and prog rock. His fourteenth album, Innocence Reaches, was released in August 2016, and is both a harkening back to his EDM roots (2005’s The Sunlandic Twins, in particular), and a progressive, re-energized, and even political sound. Revolving primarily around the aftermath of Barnes’ 2015 divorce, while also tackling sexual politics and the gender binary, Innocence Reaches is an enjoyable continuation of of Montreal’s disparate influences.
It’s also an album that seems tailor-made for live performance. of Montreal’s September 7th show at the 9:30 Club featured everything from elaborate costume changes to a huge possum wandering around on stage, showcasing the weirdness of the music and creating a space for listeners to share in Barnes’ artistic vision. Barnes, no stranger to performing in drag, danced around in various outfits ranging from neon pink pantyhose and a miniskirt to a floor-length red ballgown, at one point wearing nothing more than an apron over a pair of red briefs. Starting and ending with Innocence Reaches’ anthemic “it’s different for girls,” the set then flowed into “let’s relate,” the music video for which aptly sums up the vibe of the concert as a whole.
of Montreal’s show was unique in a lot of ways – after all, you don’t often see a guy in a huge phallus costume dance across stage before being attacked by masked police officers with prosthetic breasts – but one of my favorite aspects of the show was its format. Barnes didn’t speak to the audience, as many artists do; there were no cries of “Thank you, DC!” or requests to buy merchandise or albums. of Montreal took the stage and sang for eighty minutes without pause, getting through most of Innocence Reaches as well as a few favorites from previous albums. Their appeal lay in Barnes’ equal dedication to both the music being performed and the performance itself.
Photo credit: Nicholas Karlin