Art Theatre of Long Beach
Before the holidays, Kevin Barnes and his band embarked on an extensive national tour, including a stop in Los Angeles. And now, after the celebrations have waned, the troupe decided to give a few smaller cities in Southern California a show before heading to Asia and Europe. One of those cities was Long Beach. And the venue was an old theater aptly titled the Art Theatre of Long Beach.
But you see, this wasn't one of those theater-turned-venue types. This was an actual theater. Like, movie theater. Like, Inside Llewyn Davis played there at 1:30 this afternoon kind of theater. (Hell, it even served popcorn and candy at the concession stand.) And by the time Of Montreal stepped foot on stage, the snack laden aisles transformed into a dance floor. Well, gradually.
Late last year, Barnes released his twelfth studio album, Lousy With Sylvianbriar, which found him curling back to his folk roots with tracks that paid homage to greats like Bob Dylan and The Beatles. Though the record's subject matter is still crude in a peculiarly profound way, the songs follow guitars more than synths and lend themselves more to introspective, marijuana-fueled nights than ecstasy riddled orgies. Last night's performance spanned both of Barnes' fantastical worlds.
Backed by his touring quintet, Barnes began the set with a few mellow tracks off the latest record, "Suffer For Fashion," off Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? and "For Our Elegant Caste," off Skeletal Lamping. As the night progressed, the band continued to play more sensual, funky tracks from its monstrous discography. As if trying to look the role, the usually flamboyant Barnes masked himself in dimly red lighting and wore a relatively innocuous blouse and jeans. He focused more on strumming his guitar than igniting a dance party. But about two-thirds through the set, that all changed.
It started during "St. Exquisite's Confessions." As the band's mastermind crooned into the microphone, he seductively began to unbutton his blouse, exposing a bare, smooth chest underneath. Anyone who's seen the video for "Fugitive Air" should know Mr. Barnes is comfortable with his body (spoiler alert: you see his dong), so this sort of strip tease is par for the course. But something else happened: his spirit changed. As the band frenetically jammed on the song's outro, their fearless leader left stage and returned, prancing back to the microphone in an open, glittering sequined top. From there, it was nothing but upbeat songs, and the crowd reacted by mirroring Barnes and flailing about. The night peaked when the band said farewell, and when a bare-chested Barnes returned to the stage for a few more songs, his fans thanked him by dancing like there was no tomorrow.
Critical Bias: Whether it be the mellow, funky, or downright dance-inducing tracks, Barnes is always an awe-inspiring performer.
The Crowd: Loyal followers with the ability to feed off of whatever energy the band is exuding at the time.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Athens, Georgia. Yeeeeeah!"
Random Notebook Dump: A movie theater doesn't make for the best dance floor but by golly, the crowd made it work.