Of Montreal’s steady stream of live performances in Portland didn’t stop people from turning out on a Monday night and having a blast.
Almost exactly 10 years have passed since I last saw the wild, absurd live show of the queer indie-disco godparents Of Montreal. That performance, at Portland’s mid-sized Roseland venue, was in support of 2008’s Skeletal Lamping and proved to be a truly bonkers blowout for the ages. Packed with costumes, props, rotating set pieces and even covers of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out,” it felt like walking into someone else’s mushroom trip in the best possible way. Add in an incredibly memorable opener—noise machines HEALTH, fresh off DISCO but still firmly presenting as noise-punk—and you can see why the Skeletal Lamping tour almost certainly can’t be topped. By my count, the band has been in Portland seven times since that show—often enough that you have to wonder if people see them on posters and are inclined to say, “Not this time, maybe next year.”
The current Of Montreal live show in support of White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood is not the intricately-designed production that the 2008 Roseland show was, but it was wild enough in the tightly-packed (but not quite sold-out) smaller venue of the Wonder Ballroom. The crowd was unsurprisingly diverse, but it was refreshing to see several actual, honest-to-god youths (from grade-schoolers to teenagers) ecstatically enjoying themselves at this all-ages show. With the band’s unstoppable thrift-shop funk aesthetic and about as many riotous costume changes as a Weird Al Yankovic show, it’s easy to see why people of all ages would get sucked into the frenetic circus that Kevin Barnes brings with him.
First introduced by a crewmember wearing a Spiderman mask, a skeleton costume and a garish tuxedo jacket, Barnes would leave the stage several times, only to return in a completely different outfit, going from a Dolly Parton pastiche to a gaudy technicolor butterfly dress and acid-green wig. His backup dancers frequently changed into different cartoonish get-ups, from anime schoolgirl costumes to gigantic Día de los Muertos sugar skulls. The trio of dancers were one of the most charming parts of the show, invading the stage with chaos and interacting with the crowd in ways that ranged from small (petting faces and grasping hands) to big (crowd-surfing while perfectly doing the splits, which is even more spectacular and terrifying than you’d imagine).
An Of Montreal show can often feel more like a vessel for theatrical chaos, but underneath the cowboy costumes and sequin suits, there’s a band talented enough to earn their spots on as many stages as they do. Barnes is a magnetic performer with an infectious presence, and more often than not he stalked the stage as an ornately-dressed singer, but when he’d pick up a guitar, the energy would shift into a completely different gear. The set moved at a breakneck speed, front-loaded with a trio of songs from White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood, leaving the rest free for a wide array of their post-Satanic Panic in the Attic work, with the bulk of the show was devoted to their back-to-back classics from Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and Skeletal Lamping—though, sadly, they completely omitted 2013’s fantastic return-to-form Lousy with Sylvianbriar and 2015’s Aureate Gloom. We got a ton of other classics, though, including “Let’s Relate,” “We Will Commit Wolf Murder” and the no-fail closer “The Party’s Crashing Us.” We were even treated to a characteristically impassioned speech about the importance of love triumphing against hate and the necessity of voting (inspired by the governor’s race in Barnes’ home state of Georgia and accompanied by an absolutely gorgeous rendition of Ruby & the Romantics’ “Our Day Will Come,” which showcased just how talented of a singer Barnes really is).
As it turns out, Of Montreal’s steady stream of live performances in Portland didn’t stop people from turning out on a Monday night and having a blast. The band has costumes, dancing, wanton destruction of typical gender norms—everything one could want from a show. What’s not to love about that?