The last time I saw Of Montreal in New York was the now infamous Roseland Ballroom performance in October 2008, just before the release of Skeletal Lamping. That spectacle of a show included, among the multiple large projection screens, tiered platforms and revolving stage sets, singer Kevin Barns emerging from a coffin covered in whipped cream, hanging himself in a gallows, and riding a white horse on stage. You could say the bar had been raised.
Tuesdayâ€™s show at the Highline Ballroom â€“ the second of the bandâ€™s current tour – saw them in different but no less engaging form, and indeed quite live, playing without the use of pre-programmed beats or backing tracks.
And oh, the virtues of keeping it real. This straightforward approach â€“ essentially the live drumming and what-you-see-is-what-you-get instrumentation â€“ injected the bandâ€™s indie-funk-rock with a ton of muscle. I didnâ€™t expect a near mosh pit to break out during â€œDisconnect the Dots.â€ In fact, it was a few songs into the set, particularly during â€œHeimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse,â€ that the crowd was driven to frenzy and stayed that way the rest of the night. Weâ€™re talking crowd surfers. Lots of them.
It was enjoyable to see the band freed from their program â€“ songs were extended, segued and in some cases re-arranged, which made for a welcome fresh take on some of the more well-played numbers.
The set list mixed newer material from the last two albums with a good amount of older material â€“ which in terms of modern Of Montreal means going only as far back as 2004â€™s Satanic Panic In the Attic and 2005â€™s Sunlandic Twins. A new song was also thrown in; the curiously titled â€œTeenage Unicorn Fisting,â€ which fits nicely into the context of the bandâ€™s current stylings.
Now for what really makes an Of Montreal performance: the stage show, which was also on a smaller scale, but regardless, packed plenty of wicked surprises. Two giant screens projected colorful animated sequences, while performers in full-body black spandex suits filmed band members with video cameras, using green screens and lights to apply psychedelic video effects on the big screens.
A shirtless Barnes even stretched himself out on cross beams during the intense set-closing jam out of â€œSheâ€™s A Rejecter.â€ But the biggest surprises of the night were the special guests, especially the two appearances by Susan Sarandon, who first emerged to spank a pig man over her knee with a ruler, using a crouching Barnes as a seat. She reappeared at the end of the set to assist in throwing streamers into the audience while the spandex-ed performers shot a snowstorm of white feathers overhead.
The final surprise was the encore – a joyous duet of The Jackson 5â€™s â€œI Want You Back,â€ between Barnes and new friend/collaborator Solange (yeah, BeyoncÃ©â€™s sister), who was almost too good at channeling the sweet voice of a young Michael Jackson.
My one (superficial) complaint of the evening was Barnesâ€™ woolly beard, which suited the pirate/gypsy-esque get-up he sported. I just donâ€™t think sparkly blue eye shadow works with beards (Iâ€™m looking at you too, Devendra Banhart). Barnes is so good at looking pretty; Iâ€™d never have pegged him as the beard type.
Either way, thereâ€™s never a bad time to be had at an of Montreal show, but this one certainly ranks among the best Iâ€™ve seen them. And this is a band that specializes in bringing it on a regular basis.