by The Spin
“Well, I guess we’re doing this again.”
That thought was firmly lodged in The Spin's brain Saturday night as we made our way to Mercy Lounge. We were in for yet another go-round of hyper-sexualized pop androgyny straight out of Athens, Ga., and we weren’t particularly thrilled about it.
Don’t get us wrong: There was a time when we loved Of Montreal. Loved them. In our youth, we would revel in the opportunity to get as freaky as terminally demure indie-pop fans can get — although, admittedly, never quite as freaky as the glitter-drenched superfans we would find ourselves near. We even stuck with them during that embarrassing stint during which they were better known for shilling Outback Steakhouse than twee songs about necrophilia. We could always count on their shows being a solid if high-concept party that we could get down with — even that one time when we’re pretty sure we had pneumonia.
But all of a sudden, we’ve reversed our position entirely, and we’re pretty sure that it’s all Janelle Monae’s fault. Monae’s should’ve-been-headlining set of dystopian Afro-futurist soul pop, as you might remember, destroyed our world last year when she opened for Of Montreal. And while any band, short of an impromptu reunion of every Elephant Six band we ever loved altogether at once, would have paled in comparison to “Dance or Die,” Of Montreal’s decision to match that momentum with Kevin Barnes riding a felt dinosaur straight out of an opium hallucination finally gave us the perspective we so desperately needed.
All that being said, we still held onto some tiny glimmer of hope that our sixth Of Montreal show would finally get back to the roots of our first. The idea was that maybe, by nature of downgrading to the smaller Mercy stage, Kevin Barnes and company would be forced to scale back the art-school shenanigans that ran amok at Cannery. We knew we wouldn’t be hearing any songs written prior to 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins, but any return to form would have been welcome.
For four songs, we thought our prayers had finally been answered. Of Montreal burst out on stage with “Suffer for Fashion,” the three-minute instant dance-party jam that opened Hissing Fauna and, less notably, every party mix we’ve made since 2007. In the ensuing three minutes, we saw two enormous balloon chains snake through the crowd, the front row showered in glitter and a crowd-surfing luchador. All of which is certainly classifiable as “weird bullshit.” But there were no skits, no overwrought modern dance numbers, none of the self-serious “This is art, you guys” mania that we had come to expect and despise.
But then the demon-baby things from last year came out. And the dancers with flame heads. And a needlessly dramatic, slow-mo wrestling match between the luchadores broke out. Before long, violinist K. Ishibashi (who also opened the show under the name Kishi Bashi) was given the floor to do a rap song called “Just the Tip” while Kevin Barnes changed costumes. Burning a song in the set to give the singer a minute to put a new T-shirt on speaks volumes about out problems with Of Montreal. It was awful. Worse than that, it was dull and predictable.
It also probably didn’t help that we don’t think much of the overstuffed and oversexed songs from their last two records, False Priest and Skeletal Lamping, which made up the majority of the band’s set. Nor are we particularly amused by Barnes’ penchant for the theatrical. Did you know that, in a clear tribute to Bowie, Barnes performs as an African-American transsexual named Georgie Fruit? Did you care? Didn’t think so.
At their best, Of Montreal has the capability to be the indie-rock version of Prince that they so desperately want to be. (Although it doesn’t seem to have dawned on them that it takes more than onstage simulated sex acts and lyrics that would raise the hair on Tipper Gore’s neck to become The Artist.) But at their worst? At their worst, Of Montreal is indie rock’s Rocky Horror Picture Show. They’re easy to fall in love with when you’re 17 and looking for conventional rebellion. But after enough distance, you kinda realize that you’ll never enjoy it quite as much as the shirtless guy with his face painted like a tiger. We're not ready to give up completely on being Of Montreal fans, but they’re not making it easy on us.
Maybe if they’d play “Disconnect the Dots” just once, we’d finally be cool with all the pig masks and fanciful psychedelia. Until then, we’ll just be over here, listening to Cherry Peel with our eyes shut.