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of Montreal Delivers, Janelle Monáe Shows Promise

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 29, 2010 4:00PM

My, how a little bit of focus can completely reinvigorate a band.

The last time of Montreal played The Riv two years ago we walked away from what we saw as an unimpressive show steeped in what we viewed to be leader Kevin Barnes’ inability to commit to his audience, performing a sort of “emotional vampirism” instead. In retrospect we think part of this was caused by the impossibly messy album the band was touring behind, a measure of honest road burn-out bolstered by the tendency of Barnes and crew to hide behind the XXX-mas pageant overload of their stage dressing and auxiliary actors.

The of Montreal we saw on the same stage last Saturday was the complete opposite experience. Barnes seemed reinvigorated by the material off the band’s excellent new album False Priest, and it was possibly the first time we’ve ever seen him seem so genuinely happy onstage. He was impish, playful, lascivious, and at times even downright adorable. Instead of hiding behind elaborate sets, Barnes pushed his large band of instrument playing compatriots to the perimeter of the stage, and allowed thoughtful visual flourishes to occasionally join him in the spotlight between more elaborately choreographed dancing and pantomime with outrageously costumed characters that actually fit a visual storyline. One would think it impossible to construct a moving scene involving a cuckolded pig, but a new attention to detail and willingness to express honest vulnerability in their stage show allowed of Montreal to do just that. When of Montreal came out for an encore with opener Janelle Monáe and her band to perform a medley of Michael Jackson tunes it was infused with pure joy, and none of the distanced cynicism the band might have practiced on other tours in the recent past.

Janelle Monáe’s opening set continued to justify our belief that she is an electric live presence, even if her show did nothing to change our opinion that her overly lauded debut is in fact an unfocused mess that hints at great promise without actually delivering any proof of genius. Hopefully her extended time on the road with of Montreal will allow some of their new found focus and truly inspired vibrancy to seep into the writing process for her next album. We're pulling for her, we just don't think she's quite there yet.

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