Live: Of Montreal @ Avalon Hollywood, 11.08.07

All photos by Greg Katz

I buy Of Montreal. The buoyant pop, the Bowie aping, the absurd gayness – I go for it hook, line, and sinker. But Thursday was the third time I’ve seen them and something was amiss.

Last time I saw Polyvinyl’s flagship band, in January supporting their triumphant Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? at the El Rey, they played with all the joyous abandon of their new record. In his role as alter-ego Georgie Fruit, Kevin Barnes embraced androgynous hypersexuality to the point that, during the show, his testicles fell out of his Spandex shorts. It was incredible. To compound the impressiveness, it was in front of a bunch of stone-faced teenagers who were unable to comprehend Barnes’s complexsexual schtick; if you’ve never heard Aladdin Sane – or at least seen the cover – Of Montreal’s latest incarnation is just not going to make sense.

Last night’s Avalon crowd was set to be much more receptive; it probably helped that they were generally older and had had time to fully digest Hissing Fauna. When the curtain came up and a tiger in a white suit appeared as the band’s hype man on a giant light-up catwalk, it seemed like we were in for more of the frenetic fun of their last tour. That is, until Barnes took the stage and the band started on “So Begins Our Alabee.”

“I’ve been a caged puma all day waiting for this moment,” Barnes announced emptily, and it seemed from the outset that his heart wasn’t in it. It didn’t help that all of the set’s first four songs were drum machine-driven, which dulled some excitement. Though the addition of live drums as the set progressed did mitigate Barnes’s lethargy, he still didn’t seem happy on stage. It was a shame, too, as the huge flashing podiums and bizarre animated visual projections (monsters with hands for feet, ninjas fighting with katanas, humans and animals making out) showed that the band had dedicated a lot of energy to this tour.

Most of the audience took Barnes’s nonchalance in stride and danced anyway, as I did, but it began bothering me about halfway through the show that he hadn’t smiled in the 45 minutes he’d been on stage; the last two times I saw the band, he seemed to have been really enjoying himself! It reminded me literally of OM’s Sunlandic Twins song “I Was Never Young,” in which Barnes admits that in his youth he “just never smiled.” In the coda, he reflects, “Ever since I was a kid I’ve been a brooding basket case.” Indeed. His disaffection also added irony to “Gronlandic Edit,” from Hissing Fauna, in which he sings of “party people dancing for the indie star / but he’s the worst faker by far.”

The set was almost entirely songs from Of Montreal’s recent album trifecta, which might have been part of the problem; I’m just projecting here, but Barnes’s modus operandi is a staggeringly prolific output, so maybe he was sick of playing “old” songs. Then again, during the one new song he debuted, “Softcore,” his mood didn’t change. (For the curious, it was more like the straight-ahead power pop of their older offerings than latter day OM’s output.)

I know, I know: Since when is it news that indie rockers mope around on stage? But with the flashing-lights-and-costumes thing, and after being so damn happy the last two times around, it was difficult to understand. While no one would have thought the show wasn’t “fun,” Barnes got through the whole set without smiling once. Was he snubbing an audience that he thought didn’t get his schtick? Was he, like Bowie who’d dabbled in homoeroticism before him, getting tired of the pose? Was he just exhausted from touring?

Or was it those pesky “chemicals” he’s always singing about?
-Greg Katz

Tigerman doesn’t know either.

Of Montreal – “Suffer For Fashion”: mp3


Greg brings his camera-phone to shows. Click below for more Concert Photos.