In concert: Of Montreal at 9:30 Club
By David Malitz
Maybe it was first night of tour rustiness. Maybe it was playing a new album instead of the songs fans wanted to hear. Maybe it was taking the stage after a firecracker of an opening set by ascendant soul star Janelle Monae.
Whatever the reason, this much is clear - Of Montreal played an entirely worthless show Monday night at 9:30 Club. It was a trudging parade of pointless, kitschy costumes set to a soundtrack of tepid funk rock that was as painful to watch as it was to listen to. There was no spark, there was no flow, there was no joy - even the stage dancers whose faces were obscured by full-body lycra suits seemed disinterested and slightly embarrassed to be a part of the debacle. The soundman was caught yawning on multiple occasions. The sold-out crowd slowly filtered out during the performance. There was only a smattering of applause when the band finished its set. “Play something good!” someone shouted from the balcony before the undeserved encore.
This tour was supposed to be the coronation of Kevin Barnes and his band as the new kings of over-the-top indie rock, but his reign feels over before it started.
More likely than the explanation that it was a bad first night is that Of Montreal’s moment has simply passed. Frontman Kevin Barnes led his band through a decade of indie-pop semi-obscurity before hitting it big with 2007’s “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?,” a schizophrenic album of sizzling electro-pop, and the spectacle-filled tour that followed. There were masks and horses and Broadway-worthy costumes, all of which seemed to fit with the wild, scattershot visions in Barnes’s songs.
Since then, the spectacle has remained but is now more of a crutch than anything. People in giant fish costumes appeared at the outset and pretended to shoot Barnes with some sort of firearms. Barnes rode a human camel across the stage. A enormous, inflatable astronaut appeared during set closer “You Do Mutilate?” because ... well, that’s what happens during Of Montreal shows now. The whole thing took on the ritualistic feel of a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” screening. Except the only ritual was that some giant prop would enter stage left and the crowd would dutifully take a picture then stand there dazed and a bit bored.
Of course, “Rocky Horror” has some memorable songs. Of Montreal has plenty of those, too. They just weren’t a part of Monday’s show, which was devoted almost entirely to the brand new album, “False Priest.” Barnes scampered around stage running from assorted monsters and singing in his exaggerated falsetto. A seven-piece band churned out competent, generic funk-rock. Everybody loves Prince and Michael Jackson. Not everybody should try to sound like them.
But Of Montreal doubled down by actually performing a medley of MJ’s “Thriller” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” during the encore. Well, at least that one concertgoer's request to play something good was heeded.
The whole thing was especially a downer after Janelle Monae’s blazing hour-long opening set. It was far from perfect - the mix was muddy, the bass was far too loud, there was too much echo on her vocals, some of the music seemed to be piped in. But no matter, Monae’s starpower shined through. It’s no wonder she’s been on tour for almost the entire year - there’s no way anyone can witness her psychedelic funk odyssey and not immediately tell all their friends how amazing it was.
Of Montreal and Janelle Monae perform again at 9:30 Club Tuesday night. The show is sold out.
September 14, 2010; 1:57 PM ET
Categories: In concert | Tags: Janelle Monae, Of Montreal
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