Last May, I was sitting in the parking lot behind my apartment complex, doing a final Facebook check before going inside and taking much-needed nap. After staying up all night working on Artsweek and writing my art theory midterm, I was done. That weekend promised to be a blissful triathlon of Netflix, ice cream and sleep.
But then I saw it. A friend’s status said he was looking forward to seeing Of Montreal at the Echoplex that night.
WHAT? WHY DIDN’T ANYBODY TELL ME?
Apparently my Goldenvoice alerts aren’t cutting it. The band that I’d loved since I was 15 and watched at the Avalon (still in the top three shows I have ever seen) — whose Hissing Fauna and Sunlandic Twins albums had been on repeat in my car since rediscovering them that spring break — the band I had been fantasizing about seeing live again that very morning — were in fact in Los Angeles.
And the next day they’d be in San Francisco.
By four o’clock I had found tickets, and by five we were on the road. Even though driving for two hours, wading through hipsters and dancing all night were not exactly what my body needed at that moment, it was what my soul needed. In the midst of a challenging quarter — book-ended by two art shows, derailed by Coachella and a bunch of bullshit that compulsive overachievers will understand — watching Of Montreal perform was a gift to myself. I knew they would put the spectacle in spectacular, that it would be the kind of evening I would not easily forget, and I was right.
Fast forward to last Friday night and the prolific neo-glam, art pop group from Athens, GA was at the Hub. Their new album, Lousy with Sylvianbriar (Polyvinyl, 2013), has brought them back on tour and A.S. Program Board was excellent enough to get them to UCSB.
When I found out, I was beside myself with excitement — and also confusion. How were they going to get all of their performers on that stage, not to mention the mountable dinosaur costume and the confetti logistics?
But backing up: The show started with Houston, TX indie pop band Wild Moccasins. The five-piece had opened for OM at the Echoplex as well, and I am glad I had the chance to see them again because I don’t think my first impression of them did justice to their music.
The group makes good music and puts on a truly fun, entertaining live show. I give lead singer Zahira Gutierrez props for entreating the audience to groove to their last song, promising that it would be “dancey.” The audience obliged.
After a short break, the sold out Hub greeted Of Montreal enthusiastically. They jumped into “Triumph of Disintegration” from their new album, but it felt incredibly familiar and even the lyrics hearkened back to some of their older records: “The last ten days have been a motherfucker / I didn’t know if I’d survive” and “It’s only natural to feel a little imbalanced / It’s a symptom of your hysterical need to be understood.” Ooh, you preach, Kevin Barnes.
People danced and sang along almost immediately and the energy continued through the next song — another favorite — “Suffer For Fashion” from Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Polyvinyl, 2007).
It is sometimes difficult to see a band as prolific as Of Montreal live because you simply cannot hear everything you want to hear — or at least, not everyone could hear everything he or she wanted to. While a girl in front of me shouted, “Satanic Panic!” my inner voice yelled, Hissing Fauna! And, of course, a band wants to showcase its new stuff. You can’t satisfy everyone.
But you know what? I think they did. I can’t speak for everyone obviously but just by judging the level of energy that persisted throughout the whole show, Of Montreal did a great job jumping back and forth from new songs to old, from sexy to obscure, to deep, to dancey.
They have an incredible catalogue of work to choose from and they made excellent choices, but I think what distinguishes them is their ability to perform — to put on a show — to create an atmosphere that makes you feel a part of something.
There are the band’s outfits: Barnes came out on stage in a silky, Tetris-inspired Kimono/robe/jumpsuit — a Kimrobosuit, if you will — and by the end of their last encore, was wearing only a glittery, open jacket, a golden necklace and some spandex undies.
Still, the stage theatrics were far less than I have seen in their past shows. No over the top costumes or extra performers, no animal masks, no lasers. But the performance was there.
As much as I love spectacle, seeing Of Montreal toned-down was incredibly powerful. Maybe the setting was a little different, the audience a little wasted, the fans not quite as obsessive as a whole. Whatever the circumstances, the band took it in stride.
They also took a risk. The last song of their set began with its strange, droning beat and I could hardly believe my ears: “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal” — my all time favorite OM song and one of the best songs ever made — is 12 minutes of earth-shattering lyrics, spiraling guitar and heavy keys. It’s an intense song. It’s a cathartic song. And to try to take an audience to that place is no easy task, especially if you’re not sure the audience is locked in and ready to go with you.
To say “they pulled it off” is an understatement.
Thank you, Of Montreal, for showing that weird is cool when we really needed to hear it, for bringing your weird to this campus, and for reminding me why, even in my most hysterical hour, I would follow you anywhere.
Photos by Demi Anter / Daily Nexus
A version of this story appeared on page 8 of Thursday, January 30, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.