Of Montreal exhibits colorful experimentalism at The Independent

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If you stepped into a psychedelic daydream filled with friendly multicolored monsters, foggy beams of painted light and rockin’ tunes with killer percussion, that would probably be the closest you’d come to being at of Montreal’s show at The Independent last Thursday.

The crowd was chanting “Let’s have a dance party” before frontman Kevin Barnes and his band even entered the stage, and kept the energy high throughout the show. Of Montreal started their set with “gratuitous abysses,” off their 2016 album Innocence Reaches, followed by “We Will Commit Wolf Murder” off Paralytic Stalks.

Of Montreal put on an avant garde show that fluttered from genre to genre, with each song welcoming a new cast of colorful creatures to the stage. As a testament to that, the show began with the entrance of a massive fuzzy knife-wielding monster, who promptly exited the stage to make room for Barnes. Barnes emerged wearing a matching crop-top and skirt with neon-pink tights and a curly blonde wig. Projected images filled the stage — but it was Barnes’ energy and liveliness that lit up the room.

During “let’s relate,” the first track on Innocence Reaches, Barnes was joined by a dominatrix in a leather body suit and a blue wig. The crowd roared while she and Barnes were grinding on stage, before she wrapped her leather whip around fans in the front row. The song set the tone for the show with a question: “How do you identify?”

Throughout the songs, costumed guests continued to join Barnes on stage, such as fairy-beings with light-up wings and skull-masked cops that stripped down to muscle suits. Kevin pranced and danced across the stage like a queen. “He looks like Hedwig from ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’,” one fan said, hypothesizing the rock musical’s influence on Barnes. Of Montreal’s show was certainly a theatrical exploration of gender and identity.

After “a sport and a pastime,” which showed some definite EDM influence, Barnes caressed the faces of the audience. He then leapt from the stage during the between-song buzz, and returned channeling some more Prince- and David Bowie-inspired vibes during “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider,” as the crowd sang along.

Barnes’ fans are committed — they come from far and wide, some even in costume, to see Barnes and the band. Several said they see of Montreal every time the band is in town, others even travel to see them multiple times. “It’s cathartic,” one fan said, clutching a copy of the set list, “This is my fourteenth show.”

It’s clear why fans would travel hundreds of mile and sacrifice thousands of dollars to see the band more than once. Its unique mixture of performance art influenced by theatre, moving mixed-media visuals and experimental cross-genre tunes are unparalleled. Through every song, home videos, protest footage, hand-painted animations and highly distorted images twirled across the band, engulfing the entire stage and beyond.

And what better way to close out a spectacular show than by sending the creature-friends stage-diving into the crowd? Of Montreal closed its pre-encore set with “Suffer for Fashion” accompanied by a wigged cop, sphinx cat in a ghostly white rope and other beautiful visitors from back-stage. The audience screamed and clapped when they left the stage, begging the band to return for an encore — and of Montreal did not disappoint.

Barnes reappeared in a stunning sapphire kimono to play “Bassem Sabry,” to which the crowd blissfully sang along as body-suited dancers leaped off the stage and into the crowd. During the final song of the night, one of the dancers floated through the crowd with impossible grace, ending up with her legs in several split positions. The performers made their way back to the stage with Barnes as they all embraced.

After the show, Barnes spent several minutes interacting with fans in the front row — a testament to his multi-layered ability to connect with the crowd. That, combined with the cathartic viscerality and emotional vulnerability of his performances, makes it easy to feel like Barnes has written each and every song just for you.

Contact Sophie-Marie Prime at [email protected].