Mike Mantin 03/08/2007
After ten years and eight albums, it's understandable for a band to be running out of ideas. The fresh-sounding early material dried up, their 'experimental' phase over, it's not surprising when a band reaches this stage and plays it safe. Yet of Montreal, perhaps one of the most creative and consistently surprising bands in America, have taken completely the opposite route. After their quirky lo-fi early albums, they made a ridiculous but brilliant drug-addled concept album (2001's 'Coquelicot Asleep In The Poppies: A Variety Of Whimsical Verse') and, from 2004's 'Satanic Panic In The Attic' onwards, began a glorious journey into electronica and prog. The culmination was this year's 'Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?', an outstanding electro-pop masterpiece which hid lyrics about depression and insecurity under huge synth riffs and an ever-danceable rhythm section. It proved that, at what it usually a difficult stage in a band's career, they're more original than ever.
Most of the songs played tonight in this tiny basement venue in Brighton come from 'Hissing Fauna...' and its predecessor, 'The Sunlandic Twins'. Powered by virtuoso bass playing and Dottie Alexander's synth, the songs make for an energetic and hugely enjoyable show. Though the audience starts out static, single 'Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse' gets the crowd moving for the second half, spurred on partly by a man on his friend's shoulders punching the ceiling. Perhaps the crowd were too transfixed by the bizarre goings-on on stage: the band arrive in their trademark outfits: guitarist The Late B.P. Helium plays completely deaddpan in his glittery one-piece and wings while hyper-flamboyant frontman Kevin Barnes, seen backstage by the crowd before the show meticulously applying glittery make-up, changes costumes halfway through into tight blue hotpants and fishnet tights. They also have a penchant for Flaming Lips-style onstage antics from masked ninjas, occasionally wielding lobster claws. During bitter revenge fantasy 'She's A Rejector', a man in a suit stands completely still reading a newspaper until the chorus, when he leaps up and down with a maniacal grin on his face, the band paying absolutely no attention to him. Sure it's gimmicky but it's what we expect from a band who once chose to end an album with a seventeen-minute piano solo called 'Hopeless Opus or the Great Battle of the Unfriendly Ridiculous' and named all their early four-track songs after Dustin Hoffman.
The sound tonight is spot-on and far better than their slightly muddy performance at the Scala in June. When they want to be sleek, as on disco-pop favourites 'Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games' and 'The Party's Crashing Us', they prove themselves to be tight and perfectly honed, while the climax of the epic 'The Past Is A Grotesque Animal' sees B.P. playing guitar with his teeth and filling the room with feedback (while Kevin pops off to prepare a fight between him and his ninja brother). Though clearly an acquired taste, there's little to fault in their performance (a very appropriate word). It would have been nice to have something from their five albums of more guitar-based material, but this is hardly a complaint: of Montreal are clearly a band who don't look back. Each time you see them live, they climb further up your 'favourite bands' list: they're a powerful live band with excellent musicianship and an overwhelming sense of spectacle. It's impossible to know what they'll do next, but I can't wait for it. My only guess is that it'll probablly involve industrial levels of glitter.
More photos at Mike's Flickr page