Over the years, of Montreal has become notorious for its live performances. Kevin Barnes infamously stripped down to nothing but a red sash at a show in Las Vegas in 2007 and rode around on a white horse at the Roseland Ballroom in New York a year later. Given this raunchy reputation, I would say my excitement to see Barnes and his team in action was entirely justified. Add in the fact that they’ve been touring with Janelle Monaé, who is prominently featured on their newly released album “False Priest,” and it should come as no surprise that I purchased tickets for their September 16 show at Boston’s House of Blues in the middle of July. Going to a concert with expectations that high can backfire quickly, and although there was no full-frontal nudity and a noticeable dearth of live animals onstage, the nearly two-hour long show did not disappoint, from the music itself to the on-stage theatricality and constant barrage of colorful, stimulating visuals.
(Photo courtesy of your_favorite_martian)
The band came on clad in all-white outfits with white make-up painted on their faces, reminiscent of Japanese Kabuki. They served as the neutral backdrop against which Barnes performed in full Technicolor glory. Wearing a turquoise blouse topped with an oversize bow, purple leggings and a frilly, white apron, Barnes jumped and pranced around the stage singing and playing to the crowd. His sprite-like performance was accompanied by an equally energetic group of dancers who rotated among a multitude of costumes ranging from silver lamé bodysuits accessorized with giant silver lobster claws to flesh-colored spandex suits topped off with rubber pig masks. Barnes continually interacted with these dancers and constantly brought on new guests, including the ever-sassy Monaé who accompanied him on “Sex Karma.” Although Barnes’s microphone stopped functioning in the middle of the song, the chemistry between the two musicians was strong enough to keep everyone’s attention despite the technical difficulties, and this song was certainly one of the more touching moments of the entire set.
The set list itself was comprised of a generally upbeat mix of favorites from of Montreal’s previous two albums – most memorable among which were the rousing renditions of “She’s a Rejecter” and “For Our Elegant Caste” – along with new material. Since False Priest was released in its entirety only two days before the show, songs from this newest album did not receive the same reception as the others. For the most part, however, the new material was easily integrated with the older songs, although the older material is what people tended to dance to with the most fervor. The only noticeable divide in the material came when Barnes performed “Casualty of You,” which marks a stark departure from of Montreal’s characteristic, danceable sound. For this number, Barnes changed into an oversize, hooded cloak with a rope tied around his neck, and for the first time since the show began, he barely moved. Behind him, a montage of images flashed depicting scenes of destruction and wartime, which were startling especially when juxtaposed with the glittery maritime motif that had been running through the show.
Although this moment may have fallen short, it was the only dark moment in the otherwise party atmosphere. Before Barnes performed “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse,” he confided in the crowd that although this song had been written in a now notoriously dark period in his life, during which he locked himself in Norway while battling depression, this song had now taken on a new meaning and he was now ecstatic to sing it and dance along. The band’s encore was a rousing Michael Jackson medley of “Thriller,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” and “Pretty Young Thing.” If the audience hadn’t been in a frenzy before, this certainly put them over the edge and everyone left the show dancing. Seeing of Montreal was a treat for both the ears and the eyes, and this performance proved that you need not be a hardcore of Montreal fan to fully enjoy the theatricality of Barnes and his crew.