Five years ago, you might have popped into your local rock club and seen of Montreal, the then still-fledgling indie pop stars, perform. You might have seen them enact a mini sword fight. Frontman Kevin Barnes might have even slipped offstage to put on a nice patterned dress. Indeed, after attending all those shows where bands just stand around playing music for two hours, you might have left certain you’d seen the show of a lifetime.
Nowadays, attend an of Montreal concert and you’re bound to see something to boggle the mind for days, weeks — maybe the rest of your earthly days, depending on what kind of person you are. Regardless of how you feel about the melody of “Wraith Pinned to the Mist…” being used in those Outback Steakhouse commercials, the band has certainly put the cash to use on its crowd-pleasing antics. Think extras garbed in skin-tight black body suits, their faces covered in almost digitizing silver glitter. Think multi-balloon-headed creatures, women writhing in full-body gold glitter at their feet. Think Kevin Barnes in blue eye-makeup. On stilts. On horseback. Wearing a thong. Think Kevin tossing the thong for a few songs while porn plays on giant video screens behind him. Think aliens, tiger heads, bondage costumes, and…did I mention glitter?
Just when The Flaming Lips thought they had the market cornered on acid-friendly performances, what with their cannons propelling untold amounts of confetti into the crowd, of Montreal has stepped up the glamour, the sex, the strange. And unlike The Flaming Lips, whose impressive stage show has settled into a routine that rewards newcomers and punishes tried-and-true fans hungry for something new, you never know what to expect at an of Montreal show.
Take the band’s recent performance in the little indie hotspot of Lawrence, Kansas. While not the strangest of Montreal show I’ve seen (Pitchfork Festival 2007 takes that prize), new and surprising elements found a way to wow this old fan. I soon discovered that, while being batted around by a chaotic crowd is one thing, trying to photograph an of Montreal show will leave you far more exhausted, as you attempt to capture every shocking photo op. At some point, you have to lower the lens and let it happen. And happen it did.
At once, the frenetic patchwork style of Skeletal Lamping sprung to life in a perfect cacophony of bizarre imagery. Kevin on a throne. Kevin surrounded by sycophants aiding yet another costume change. Kevin in a flesh-colored thong that left oh-so-little to the imagination, the rest of him being painted red by a black-robed ghoul. And by far the strangest moment of the evening, Kevin hung to death before our very eyes
Then, when the strange couldn’t be topped, the band returned for its encore and played –- wait for it -– Franz Ferdinand’s likable but utterly forgettable 2004 hit “Take Me Out.” Suddenly, the boys pulled us back to the days when fake sword fights made the blogs…and they didn’t stop there. Their final song of the night was an utterly faithful, impassioned cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Suddenly, the crowd began leaping in place, pumping fists, as long-time friends clung to one another in disbelief. This was no longer of Montreal, beloved indie band with the incredible show to get drunk at, but something bigger. Once more, leave it to these guys to know how to woo a crowd. And just like Kevin — or Georgie Fruit, or whatever he’s calling himself these days — would say, “What do you think [they’ve] got in store for you, my dear?”