Originally published in Third Coast Review.
The childish charm Kevin Barnes brings to a Thalia Hall stage with whimsical drum beats and synth blasts is ironic to his message on the of Montreal website. The band seems to be purposefully bringing a light and fantastical quality in performance to help its audience out of a post-2016 election mental frenzy.
Of Montreal, in its tour for White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood, is singer and writer Barnes, bassist Davey Pierce, guitarist and backing vocalist Nicolas Dobbratz and keyboardist JoJo Glidewell. Pierce heads up the costume design for of Montreal, which brought a wide range of colors to its Tuesday night performance, and costume played a heavy role in that. But so did backdrop, backing choreography and a tornado of sounds.
Barnes brings to his audience sounds of the 70s, laced with speedy, strong splatters of guitar, and the occasional gargantuan falsetto vocal pounding. And part of the beauty of the show was all this production delivered for only about a halfway full Thalia Hall. This band did not skimp on any one element for its audience, regardless of audience size. It was like Barnes, Pierce, Dobbratz and Glidewell traveled all this way to present a rainbow of stimuli only for us.
The frontman highlights Zac Coldwell as having encouraged the saxophone instrumental layer to some of the songs on Tuesday’s setlist. Those include one of many psychedelic tracks, “Writing the Circles/Orgone Tropics,” acting as a new jazz hypnosis. The instrument echoes through the hall at just the right rate, transforming the corner of the listener’s mind that the band’s already tapped, into an alleyway from another universe.
A concert like this from of Montreal piles consecutive fan favorites dating back to 2004. Seriously, it was like the band wanted to ensure that it got to its and your favorites before midnight. Save for a dramatic introduction from a combination skeleton slash Spiderman, there wasn’t any jibber jabber. Of Montreal lets the (sometimes excessively) intricate stage production do the talking in its show. Barnes changes wigs, skirts and tops every few songs, keeping on his sparkly Mary Janes, perhaps his drag signature for the tour.
Aliens, robots and Dia de los Muertos masks made their grand entrances to the stage periodically to accompany an agile drag dance by Barnes upstage. The timing is okay with Wednesday having been Halloween, but even better with midterms fast-approaching Tuesday. And in a world where minorities include blacks, Hispanics, women and flamboyant cross-dressing performers, Barnes and of Montreal come at just the right time.
He slaps sense with paradox.