Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Live Review - Of Montreal / Janelle Moane

Robots, Beta Fish, and 1960s Throwbacks Help Janelle Monae and Of Montreal Rock Buffalo’s Town Ballroom. By Jared Ziedman*

There is a distinct difference between going to see a “concert” and going to see a “show.” When Of Montreal is involved, you’re getting a show. There is always a caution with shows, because there is always concern as to whether or not the band can pull it off. But not only did Kevin Barnes’ works come to life, they told an impressive (and at times disturbing) story. On Sunday night at the Town Ballroom in Buffalo, the “False Priest Tour” left everyone begging for more, due in large part to an incredible stage show and an opening act that won’t be opening much longer.

There is a certain amount of gusto involved in a show like this. Obviously the front man and front woman have to have the charisma to get their act over. But for both Of Montreal and Janelle Monae, it was less charisma, and more sheer confidence. Monae, known largely for her two singles, “Tightrope,” and “Cold War,” didn’t perform either song until the end of her set; instead performing the opening songs off The Archandroid, and then transitioning to some of her older work from the original “Metropolis Suite”. In fact, her two hits were played back to back, along with the equally liberating “Come Alive” to end her set. And “Come Alive” the crowd did, The Town Ballroom was in the palm of Monae’s hand, while her three piece band (that doesn’t get nearly enough recognition for being an unbelievable rhythm section) was as tight as any soul section out there.

You could tell that Monae and Barnes were close off the stage as well, as it was clear that the Wondaland Arts Society pals conducted some significant idea swapping. Monae’s performance was filled with costumes, dancers and video. But, Of Montreal pioneered those tricks, and they were not to be outdone. The near two-hour set included multiple costume changes, Broadway quality costumes, bold and colorful video, and of course, the delightfully eccentric and borderline insane Kevin Barnes.

Barnes was all about playing to the crowd, but it was the depth with which he played to the details of the stage show that made his performance work. Barnes’ antics ranged from playing a piano-driven piece through a fully functioning ten foot black and white television, to dry humping a woman in a pig costume, to performing a song complaining about his ex girlfriend who killed his beta fish by throwing it out a window in an act of revenge. It’s pretty safe to say all bases were covered, except for the classics.

With the exception of five songs (from “Skeletal Lamping,” and “Hissing Fauna”), Of Montreal exclusively performed songs off their new release, False Priest. Although similar to Monae’s decision, Of Montreal’s act was a little more risky, because the album didn’t leak online, and only came out five days ago (whereas The Archandriod was released five months ago). That being said, the risk paid off exponentially. Anyone who listens to the new album will now be able to attach the accompanying lucid visuals from the stage show. The crowd bought into it the entire time, and the show came off less like a concert and more like an interactive adaptation of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (which, in case you were wondering contextually, is fucking awesome).

When the Buffalo crowd screamed for an encore, they got a lot more than they expected, because Of Montreal returned to the stage with Janelle Monae and her band, and performed three songs off Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (“Thriller,” “Wanna be Startin’ Something,” and “PYT”) in their entirety. The encore sent everyone into a frenzy, including Barnes and Monae who appeared to be in heaven together on stage..

Although the criticisms are scarce in quantity, it was painfully obvious that this tour was just getting started, particularly on Of Montreal’s end. Although the choreographed stage segments worked seamlessly, the sound producer was clearly still trying to figure out how to level the seven-member instrument section. The end result was a lot of feedback and some particularly jumbled sections when synth was involved. This show was one of the rare instances where the opening act had a much tighter sound and was much better mixed, although that can be expected when a band has already been playing this material live for two tours.

All in all, “False Priest” was quite the poetic show. Janelle Monae opened and helped close a show, which was headlined by a band that by and large paved the way for acts like Monae to do what they want on stage. Even though the crowd ate up all three hours, it looked like Monae came out the winner. Of Montreal is always good for a great show and a great time, but Monae looked like a superstar. It was one of those shows where you can say you saw someone before he or she became huge. And she owes a lot of it to Barnes. As the tour continues (it is literally stopping everywhere in this country) it will become much more cohesive and even better than what I thought was a complete success. I guess my one request would be this:
Keep it up Atlanta. You are saving music.

*Jared Zeidman is a contributing writer to He runs the sports website