Fans of Burning Man would have enjoyed the Nov. 21 concert by indie pop group Of Montreal; longtime fans of the band, however, would not have. The stop in San Francisco at the Regency Ballroom was part of a national tour in support of their new album Skeletal Lamping.
Of Montreal has changed their sound in recent years, and although always somewhat psychedelic, the band once had a more twee-like sensibility. Now glam-disco a la David Bowie has become the hallmark of their music. With this shift in sound, the band has also altered their look from average indie kids to Glam Superstars. Sort of.
The show began with energy and humor; front man Kevin Barnes emerged from a basket surrounded by Golden Dancing Buddhas. It also featured a myriad of costumes, interpretive dances, skits, cartoons in the background – all delivered with such earnestness that the show’s amateurish quality could almost be overlooked. Almost, but not quite.
Although Of Montreal sounded great technically, the sheer number of skits, tableaux and costume changes made the two-hour show drag. What could have been funny and memorable in moderation became a bit annoying and self-indulgent because of the endlessness of bizarre, slightly disturbing, cheaply done skits. If you want to know whether you would have liked the show, ask yourself how you feel about faux orgies starring two Ren-Fair ‘maidens’ and a centaur.
Theatrics are a part of showmanship but in the case of Of Montreal, half-planned efforts at theatrics seemed to overwhelm Barnes. He seemed distracted from the singing, constantly hopping back stage to put on a centaur costume or to strip down to metallic red underwear. Barnes seemed both lost and oblivious, as if getting through the concert exactly as he planned, with nothing out of order or spontaneous being the most important thing and that the world around him, namely the audience, could wait. I really thought he would just quit singing at one point so he could dance and change costumes with more ease.
It was unclear what the point of the whole show was for the audience or the band. In the past, Of Montreal has cleverly engaged their audience, allowing them to be part of Barnes’ crazy dream world.
This time, people in the audience were mere on-lookers. The band seemed a bit disjointed as well. There was no joy in playing the music, which was technically good, it was just background for Barnes’ visual efforts.