Of Montreal

There is music, there is fashion. There is performance art and happenings. There is circus, dance and there is theatre.

Then there is our modern world, desperately seeking to pigeonhole everything.
An attempt to contain us into small comfortable rooms. Sure (“them”) to identify our field of interests and ready to bombard us with targeted marketing. We, passively fooled to be happy in a place where everything is nice and nuisances are outside.
A world that blocks any potential exploration of the outside, of what we think we are not. Prejudices. A world (“them”) advising to not jump beyond the horizon, without telling that line is just another stage.

To be open-minded is a dangerous, opposed attitude. To be open towards the unknown is neither easy nor easily accepted, either because we are into an increasing Orwellian big brother, or because of a mental block that, in a growing multicultural world, pushes us to shut ourselves within that room or, simple, is software invasion that needs to classify everything in a binary logic, coded in C++.

A personal intro which is, in fact, in topic.
Personal because musically I would tend to be as rigid as a secular tree, close in my room with my certainties. Thankfully some of the branches head out of the window giving me a runaway.
General because Of Montreal extend the concept, defy rigidity and expand horizons. Their music becomes a mere element in a wider project that embraces multidisciplinarity and goes beyond songs… and beyond certainties.

If the CD is an audio device bound to hearing and Of Montreal cannot be in full potential on record, in concert they spring all the facets and detonate as a kaleidoscope that accidentally crashes on the ground bursting all its colourful content.

Koko tonight is overwhelmed by colours, confetti, mimes, masks. Extend from the stage to the audience. Of Montreal arrived in London to present their tenth LP, False Priest. This show will be remembered for a long time, the fans knew and got ready well in advance.

I have never been a big fan of Of Montreal. I know them, listened to several albums, checked videos and photos but they are not among the music collection I listen in my comfy room. Too happy, too orchestral, too anarchic to get my “I like”, yet interesting enough to deserve my “I am curious”.

Thanks to Polyvinyl that invited me, I stretched my tiredness, defied my laziness and got on the London train to treat me with this cheerful party. A break among a series of apocalyptic concerts that from the Swans on, will climax in Minehead in December for the Godspeed You! Black Emperor curated ATP.

When the venue lights go down and the stage lit up, an army of white dressed, funny looking, glittery made-up musicians enter.
I appreciate that the wall that separates music and theatre in the house I depicted in my intro, is about to being tear down by electric violins, tambourine, pink thighs and cyan boots.

Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal mind, enters the stage as if Ziggy left yesterday.
He is the one who brought at the start of this millennium, in Athens, in the R.E.M. Georgia, his booth containing his collective offering baroque sounds, street art, theatre and colour. The same booth he managed to pack into the transatlantic flight that brought Of Montreal to UK.

Wiki teaches, the band name refers to the origins of an old lover. I find curious the coincidence that the most famous band from Montreal has got a lot in common with them. I always thought who inspired whom. Whether Arcade Fire got the sign of genius in the early Of Montreal works and matured it into mainstream or if Of Montreal smelled that Arcade Fire were bringing symphonic rock to top the charts and walked on a close, parallel path.

Fact is the two bands have more than one element in common. Not only because they are similar multitudes on stage, but because the music comes from the same capability of shock and awe, with special effects.

The other contemporary reference, which can’t be ignored by the moment the giant robot enters the stage to fight Kevin Barnes, are Flaming Lips. In this case the influence is unidirectional. During the entire show from the masked monsters to the dancers, from the videos to the streamers, Of Montreal show owe to Wayne Coyne and friends a lot. Including the music, the riffs, the chaotic songs structure.

Lazy writing would use “psychedelic” without looking out of place. But when “psychedelic” was invented as a term it implied the use of mind expanding drugs bringing the user into colourful and surreal trips. Today psychedelic often means, simply, “colourful”. So everyone can have a psychedelic tag, from The Coral to Wooden Shjips, from the Black Angels to Mystery Jets.

The 18 career spanning songs in the setlist alternate with theatre interventions performed by two actors that use the music interludes to get changed and make up.
The band on stage embraces Kevin Barnes in a symmetrical arrow shape with 2 keyboard, two guitars, two basses and a drum kit on the back.

If the guitar riffs can get as close as the Bee Gees and bass grooves as far as Prince‘s funkier stuff, Kevin Barnes voice brings the music into Bowie at his dance peak. The two keyboardists provide the glitter and the party mood, the drums make everyone jump relentlessly. A fantasy journey that brings New Orleans’ Mardi Gras at Edinburgh’s Fringe.

For more than 90 minutes it is impossible to stand still, everyone is curiously waiting to see what will come out from behind the scenes. In a crescendo of joyous overexcitement, with Kevin Barnes jumping off stage to kiss the fans, the show flows quickly and reaches the apex. The actors and part of the band surfcrowd, the other half wallows and rolls on stage. The notes of The Past Is A Grotesque Animal under a rain of confetti says what I have been trying to say in a gzillion words.

“The past is a grotesque animal
And in its eyes you see
How completely wrong you can be…”

One of the most entertaining multimedia shows I have seen this year. I haven’t said concert, I said show.

Keep in touch with Of Montreal on their [website] [myspace] [twitter]

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Photo tip

Talking about Flaming Lips I wrote about shooting a carnival.
Of Montreal bring the party beyond. The show is carnival, performance, happening but above all, it is theatre.

The main difference, between photographing live music and photographying theatre is the existence of a narrative.
An indie-guitar band playing live songs, photographically is pretty much the same. It can change something on the back, can change the lights but 3 songs you have covered the event.

Theatre has a start, a story and an end. You need to be allowed to shoot the entire set, which was part (a great part) of the fun of being in the Koko photo pit tonight.

The other aspect is to not miss the main characters of the story.
Almost any song Of Montreal played was accompanied by actors in different costumes, playing different roles and doing different things.

I was seized enough by the situation that opted to leave my 24-70mm zoom lens on and didn’t bother to change it. I might have missed an ultra wide angle as well as a close-up telephoto portrait but overall I preferred to concentrate on what was on stage instead of what was on my camera bag.

Because on stage it was mayhem and the same mayhem reflected on the crowd and the band members floating over them.

When a situation is so unpredictable what counts is to be ready, to have eyes everywhere in order to foresee what’s next.
Patience is more important than changing perspective. Kevin Barnes jumps everywhere for 90 minutes so don’t bother to follow him every time, he will be coming to you at a certain point.

Shooting a full set gives plenty of time and opportunity to have the right shot. It is physically tiring and mentally relaxing.
I opted to go digital this time around for two main reasons: I would have spent a fortune on films and I needed colours. Too colourful a show to go B&W.

Of Montreal put up the funniest tour to photograph by a country mile.
If they happen to be at your reach, do not miss the chance.

~ by Valerio on October 9, 2010.

2 Responses to “Of Montreal”

  1. Hi, great review. I saw of Montreal for New Years at a dive in Athens two years ago. It still stands as a highlight of all the live shows I’ve gone to, and the one you attended seems utterly beyond the psychotic event I attended. I wrote a short review of it, with a couple of photos, if you’d care to take a look. I found that delayed shutter, and a bit of flash worked very well for this band. Best, http://catastrophysicist.wordpress.com/2009/01/02/of-montreal-will-play-your-wedding/

  2. What a circus!!! I would also say, what is this putanaglio?! (smilyefacecauseidontlikemoticons)

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