Thursday, February 5, 2009

OF MONTREAL - The Button Factory, Dublin, Jan. 28

Eat your heart out, the Flaming Lips! Surely one of the most visually arresting and entertaining bands threading the boards at the moment, Of Montreal blur the lines between music, theatre and general psychedelic insanity: stage-diving pigs (not really, it’s a man in a pig suit), knights, ninjas, satanism - it’s all fair game. Formed in Athens, Georgia by mainman Kevin Barnes, over the last decade they’ve released a series of wilful, unpredictable, eclectic records (for many they peaked with 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?). Last year’s patchy Skeletal Lamping, an album that seemed to go in a million different directions at once – and not always in a good way – featured strikingly elaborate artwork and was available in 10 different formats, along with t-shirts, button sets and various collectors items; said Barnes: ‘We feel that there’s no reason to produce another object that just sits on a shelf. We only want to produce objects that have a function and that can be treasured for their singularness.’

It’s an attitude and aesthetic that also informs their live shows: the first sign that we’re through the looking-glass is when a silent ‘announcer’ dressed as a lion introduces the band. As they take the stage, your attention is drawn not just to the flamboyantly dressed Barnes (who changes costumes throughout the show, to increasingly outrageous effect) but also to guitarist Bryan Poole, who sports a massive pair of angel wings. Just in case anyone’s worried that music is going to take a back seat to the visuals, they launch straight into a blistering version of ‘She’s a Rejector’, Hissing Fauna’s desperate document of unrequited lust. It’s a thrilling opening, but becomes even more compelling halfway through as three costumed individuals enter the stage and start acting out a violent scene as the band play on. It’s not the kind of thing you get at a Glasvegas gig.

A good portion of the set is taken from Skeletal Lamping; and whereas the ADD-afflicted nature of those tunes hampered them on record, they come across much better live, where the constant visual stimulation offsets the restless shape-shifting of the music (funk, psych, piano ballads, edgy disco-pop: sometimes elbowing each other for room in the same song). Having said that, the band are at their best when they actually stick with a theme, such as the bouncy electro-pop of ‘Id Engager’, the relatively straightforward thrills of ‘Suffer for Fashion’ or the subtly addictive groove of ‘Wraith Pinned to the Mist’. For the coupe de grace, the whole gang – ninjas, pigs and all – take to the stage for a rabble-rousing cover of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. To be honest, I’m far too much of a Nirvana purist for it to sit right with me, but hey. Perhaps more bands should take a leaf out of Of Montreal’s songbook and, well, ‘entertain us’…