Dance Music for the Apocalypse

of-montrealOf Montreal at Roseland, Friday, Oct. 10

Of Montreal plays the music that you have to hope young people are listening to, and Roseland revelers brought that hope to fruition Friday night. Playing at close to capacity the band from Athens, Georgia rocked the audience, bringing back some of the former glory of the old dance hall. I haven’t sweated that much at a concert in while, but it’s hard not to when you have over three thousand fans bouncing and jumping in a crazed frenzy of music-endued energy.

Kevin Barnes basks in the allure of sexual ambiguity, changing costumes more than a Vegas showgirl. With all of the running around, it’s little wonder that the front man is in such good physical condition. Backed by a motley crew of party people armed with instruments, props, costumes and projections, the music is the thing, and it shines through the chaos of a very elaborate presentation.

With vocals reminiscent of Prince and dance rhythms backing rock guitars and keyboards, Of Montreal has a unique sound even while being retro. If Studio 54 were still in swing, this is the music its party-seekers would be snorting coke to. Catchy pop riffs pull you in as strung-out yet perky instruments prolong the trance of the dance, particularly in the new material. Experience-specific lyrics seem to be telling Barnes’s personal history, yet the music is so inviting that it creates the feeling of a universal experience, celebrating in the midst of disaster. Strange sounds of high-pitched quiverings are made familiar by the comfort food of '80sesque synthesizers and the good old healthy sex drive pumping out of the amps. Songs transition like a knob jumping from one radio station to another, giving the music a very eclectic feel.

Charging through many of their popular songs like a series of anthems, Of Montreal not only aimed to please but took its waiting audience on series of explorations. Epic and relentless, there were many moments of sustained music propelled by the rhythms of two drummers, driving the audience to flail and scream as a whole. During songs from the yet-to-be-released album Skeletal Lamping, there were times where the crowd lulled, listening to the strange new sounds, but fear not, they’ll know how to move to them next time. The night culminated with an encore that included the eagerly received “Gronlandic Edit” and a cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that shot through the audience like a call to arms. Though this audience seemed a little uncomfortable with moshing, there was a teeming energy that could break out into some new form of collective expression any day now.

With a stage production that throws in everything but the kitchen sink, it would be impossible to accuse this band of not pulling out all the stops. The absurdity reached its height when a beautiful white horse was trotted onto the stage, carrying the half-naked and singing Barnes. Sloppy and cluttered theatrics made for an amusing backdrop, hinting at the thoughtless celebrations and wanton decadence that Caligula himself must have enjoyed as Rome crumbled around him. Mayan and Greek elements were also present in costume and projected images as if to suggest the collapsing future to an American audience dancing to forget that the end of an empire may be closer than we want it to be.

That is one of the underlying strengths in Of Montreal’s music: beneath the fun and fancy of their sound are dark words of wisdom, sorrow, and imminent doom that are made easier to digest by a playful exterior. It is a bittersweet pill that goes down easy but can also sit with you through some of your darker moments if you have the ears to hear what is really being said. - C. Jefferson Thom

cj_thom

Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.

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