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Reviewed: Of Montreal at The Riv

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 28, 2008 3:15PM

2008_10_of_montreal.jpgOf Montreal are the sort of band that attracts a cult following of self-identified misfits, and by that I mean folks that feel like outcasts ... and by that I mean just about everybody. That would explain the broad cross section of attendees at last night's show at The Riv as the crowd ranged from face painted and costumed super fans; to the usual mix of hipsters, Trixies, and alt-Chads; to nattily dressed folks that looked as if they had just come from a high society dinner party. They all came for the indie rock version of a live staging of The Rocky Horror Picture Show led by the band's gender-bending frontman Kevin Barnes.

Of Montreal have carved out thier own little niche in the touring market, supported by DIY stage sets that have grown ever more elaborate over the years, and incorporating more and more auxiliary actors dressed in an odd mixture of costumes. The show is designed to provoke, and includes old timey saloon bar fights, a mock hanging, not-so-graphic graphic sex acts, chicken masks, lion masks, costumes made out of nothing more than whipped cream ... and lots and lots of make-up. We spent the first portion of the show near the back, taking the whole thing in, and trying to make sense of it. It wasn't until we moved down into the midst of the dancing fans that we realized there was no sense to be made of the show. Basically Of Montreal is a glam disco combo with a great predilection for Peter Gabriel-era Genesis stage shows, and as a vehicle for dancing your ass off while absorbing the incongruous visual spectacle it's a total blast. Barnes' songs aren't really meant to emotionally connect as much as they are meant to be vehicles that enrapture the crowd, take them to ever giddier heights, and deliver their gratitude for that rush back to Barnes in amplified waves.

It's this emotional borderline vampirism that becomes a bit disturbing. It's obvious that Barnes' fans completely adore him, to the point of near obsession, and we couldn't quite shake the feeling that he takes advantage of this, not necessarily at the audience's immediate expense, but we're not convinced he's giving much back other than artifice infused with the appearance of an extravaganza. Ultimately all the skits and props are devoid of any deeper meaning, and any implied promise that Barnes is trying to deliver an emotional satisfaction deeper than a quickly fading sugar rush is left unfulfilled. At no time was this more obvious than in the band's choice of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to close the concert. As the opening chords rang out an electric pulse took over the room and the crowd went more nuts than at any other point of the evening, and even we felt a slight chill of excitement. But that hot flash was almost immediately doused by the cold realization that Barnes was mining a crowd's sentimentality for a cheap pay-off; he wasn't reviving Kurt Cobain's clarion call to disaffected youth, he was exploiting the crowd's reflexive memory of a bygone era to buoy his own band’s illusion.

Image via the band's MySpace page