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(Photos:Nicole Kibert)

A few months ago, I received an email from an irate fan about my less than favorable review of Skeletal Lamping, the latest from Athens, Georgia indie-darlings Of Montreal. “I could write my own petty review on how much misinterpretation took place between Harris’ iPod and his ears during his probably 2 or 3 listens to the album, but I will avoid such directed commentary because it is clear that the time needed in deciphering such dense art has not fully been utilized,” the letter railed. Unfortunately, Skeletal Lamping isn’t dense art. It’s a mess, albeit a glorious mess, of a million different ideas hurled into one artistic void to create a Pollock splatter effect of an album.

Though Of Montreal made its debut in 1997 with Cherry Peel, the band did not receive more than a cult following until last year’s excellent Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? a harrowing journey into the psyche of frontman Kevin Barnes set to danceable pop. Something about this combo clicked and the band’s profile has continued to grow ever since.

Most of the crowd at their Portland show were barely out of diapers when Cherry Peel came out. Of course, Oregon has crazy liquor laws and the drinking population took to the balcony, but the amount of teens in the audience made me feel I had stumbled onto a Jonas Brothers concert. Of course, Jonas Brothers fans wouldn’t be face-painted nor pot-smoking. Maybe it was the place for the anti-Jonas fans. But whatever, I was there to see a show.

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I had seen the band twice before, and both times I felt the stage show’s theatricality got in the way of the music, but nothing prepared me for the Skeletal Lamping experience. Part Rocky Horror Picture Show, part Ziggy Stardust and part Dionysian bacchanal, elaborate sets including a golden sedan, people with animal heads, monsters with giant appendages and even a centaur covered the stage. Barnes, alone, had at least five costume changes throughout. Beginning the set with “Id Engager,” Barnes was the glam god, dressed as a blue squire with white ruffled shirt. The kids around me went nuts as he burst into a scream and began singing about a “slutty little flirt” screaming out for “the depths of this phallocentric tyranny.” Like Prince on sexual overdrive, Barnes stalked the stage as actors in black bodysuits skulked suggestively around him, contorting and grasping at his genitals.

For some reason, the disco jive didn’t reach the balcony. While the youngsters bounced and bumped around me, the older folks on the balcony, the folks drinking stood stock still. It wasn’t until the Fauna combo of “She’s a Rejector” and “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” that anyone upstairs began to remotely tap their toes.

But back to the stage show. As Barnes claimed he is “so sick of sucking the dick of this cruel, cruel city” on “St. Exquisite’s Confessions” he was dressed as a cardinal all in red as sexy nuns rubbed his body. That’s just the start of it. He would later strip down to a red Speedo, paint his entire red, be hanged and then return in a coffin covered with shaving cream. At one point, I looked to the balcony and saw a woman mouth to her husband, “What is this?”

It is so hard to write about the music while this Pink Floydian display is taking place. Sure, “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider” and “Plastis Wafer” are infectious but I was too busy watching an Old West shootout and beach ball bingo to fully appreciate the sonics of the band. It wasn’t until the encore, when the band returned to rip through Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that I felt as if I was watching a working band and not some phantasmagoric representation of one. I know for a fact that some of the music was pre-recorded, but here, Of Montreal turned into a rocking outfit and the crowd responded to the energy in kind. I do like Of Montreal’s music, a lot, but if Barnes continues to be distracted by theatrics, I think it hurts the songs. I did have fun at the show, but hearing those last two covers left me wanting more: more music.

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