Last Night: Of Montreal at the Glass House

Last night: Of Montreal at the Glass House in Pomona, Feb. 19, 2009.

Better than: Outback Steakhouse. Actually, probably not.

Download: Any of those songs in the media player at the band's website. "She's a Rejector" is a good start.

Of Montreal, they're so wacky! Right? This is the band whose singer made the pages of Playgirl for nude-ing it up at a concert, the band who gives their albums and songs psycho-long names like Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse, the band who, when I saw them live a few months ago, performed with a gaggle of actor/dancer type people that changed costume dozens of time over the course of the night. If there's one word that gets at the theme of what Of Montreal does, it's "hedonism": The music not only delivers fun beats and catchy psych-rock preening, but also is about how humans indulge and deny themselves. Kevin Barnes kind of sums up his performing style "Wraith Pinned To The Mist (And Other Games)" (a song that was kidnapped and tortured to advertise for the above-mentioned steakhouse), by cooing, "let's have bizarre celebrations."

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It's really, really too bad that both the "bizarre" and "celebration" part of Of Montreal's formula seemed phoned-in last night at the Glass House. The venue's got a relatively small stage, so it's no surprise that the band didn't trot out the half-dozen or so non-musical guests that they sometimes perform with. They did have two dudes show up and various points in assorted states of dress: as lions, as giraffes, as Catholic cardinals, as pink-leotarded rockers. But Barnes, the center of attention and the man who wrote and recorded most of the music on the band's last few albums, didn't seem to be having much fun at all. His act has always included a good does of pout -- the eye makeup and carny get-up he wears make his pout a compelling one -- but last night that seemed to be the only weapon in his arsenal. Even when a guy resembling a Power Rangers putty picked Barnes up and carried the elfin singer around the stage on his shoulders, Barnes seemed like he wanted to be somewhere else. Well, alright, that kind of makes sense... shoulder-riding probably isn't all that fun for a grown, married man.

This all wouldn't be too much of an issue if the music made up for Barnes' malaise. But there just didn't seem to be much energy up on stage. Yes, the psychedelic animations on the screen behind the band and the prowling guys dressed as jungle creatures gave us something to look at, but even Of Montreal's bounciest songs seemed to carry a little lead. Of course, anyone semi-interested in the band couldn't help but bop around to tracks like "Gronlandic Edit," "Id Engager" and others from the group's stockpile of well-written, psych-pop-meets-disco confections.  And the best moment of the night came at the climax of the undulating, sinister "Beware Our Nubile Miscreants," when one of the performers rituallistically peeled off layers of masks while the band built to a noisy, tense din.

But most of the show blurred into a parade of well-mannered rocking with low-impact quirkiness. After the relatively short set, I thought I heard a hint of apology in Barnes' "thank you so much." Perhaps he knew that he'd allowed Of Montreal to be described with the word that really shouldn't apply to a band this unique: boring.

Critics Notebook...

Personal Bias: Barnes showed more skin -- and more stuff to psychoanalyze -- in Chicago.

Random Detail: Bra on the mic stand. Was it a prop, or was it thrown by an adoring fan?

By The Way: Alvin Band, based in Laguna Niguel, sounds a helluvalot like Of Montreal at times.

Oh look, a slideshow!


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