Photo: Natasha Ryan
Kevin Barnes has got to be one of the most fascinating, contradictory, theatrical, and inventive people in the contemporary music scene. Big words, I know, but when confronted with Of Montreal’s expansive discography, the imaginative vistas the band’s music explores, the remarkable plasiticity of identity featured in the songs, and the sheer WTF? inventiveness of their live shows, I think the label is justified.
Of Montreal is a product of Athens, Georgia (NOT CANADA, PEOPLE!), which is also the headquarters of the Elephant 6 Collective, of which OM counts itself a part; over the last 20-odd years, OM has released thirteen full-length albums, including (my favorites) 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic and 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?—both released during a period of intense creativity on the part of Barnes that dovetails with the incredible concert described below.
There’s a temptation to reduce Of Montreal’s output to a single person, Kevin Barnes, but there’s a reason for that—a number of their albums are essentially solo albums, and the band is primarily a vehicle for Barnes’ infectious and overflowing creativity. Not for nothing does Satanic Panic contain the following credit: “All instruments played by Kevin”—before, well, listing a long roster of featured players.
It might surprise some to learn that Of Montreal’s albums Hissing Fauna, Skeletal Lamping, and False Priest explore the point of view of a key alter-ego of Barnes’, namely Georgie Fruit, once described by Kat Bein as “a black man in his 40s with a gender-bending glam-rock past.” This is someone who isn’t kidding about the project of exploring the limits of his own artistic impulses.
All of this is to say that Of Montreal thrives on spectacle, and their live shows have been known to set high standards for theatricality. The pinnacle of this tendency was almost certainly Of Montreal’s show of October 10, 2008, when they took over the capacious stage of Roseland in New York City with a jaw-droppingly flamboyant show involving all manner of extras, costumery, three giant video screens, and a cameo from the cutest white pony the world of indie rock has to offer. That’s right, during “St. Exquisite’s Confessions,” about 40 minutes into the nearly two-hour concert, Barnes took off his lustrous orange housecoat or whatever you want to call it, leaving himself wearing the merest scanty belt, and wandered offstage, only to stun the audience by returning on top of a nervous-looking white equine.
I saw Of Montreal in 2005 at the long lost North Six venue (the space is now called Music Hall of Williamsburg), but at no point did any livestock intrude upon the proceedings. The rock critic and mp3 blogger Matthew Perpetua, a longtime fan of Of Montreal, having attended the spectacle, waxed rhapsodic about this incredible show at the time and was in fact the person who recently drew my attention to the existence of a complete video of the show on YouTube—shot by a fan, alas, but it’s still a remarkable document of a remarkable show. Here’s Perpetua:
Hey did you know that the legendary Of Montreal show with the horse at the Roseland Ballroom in 2008 is on YouTube in its entirety? I am pretty excited about this as it’s one of the best concerts I’ve ever witnessed.
I don’t quite have the attention span to sort out what on earth all of the imagery in the concert is supposed to signify, it seems rather like a passion play plus New Orleans during Mardi Gras plus the Coney Isand Mermaid Festival plus, perhaps, Mummenschanz? A list of the objects you can spot in the video includes a sombrero, a fanny pack, a noose, dumbbells, a pantomime horse, the real horse of course, a Mexican wrestling mask, a tiger mask, a pig mask, a rooster mask, a giraffe mask, a throne, and a big papier-mâché coffin. Before the show reached its climax certain members of the ensemble were covered in shaving cream.
During the encore Barnes belted out an ecstatic version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” featuring Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT on guitar, while the throngs of fans joyously dance along. One commenter on BrooklynVegan observed that “the front row was pure madness.” which is easy to see in the video actually.
Without any further ado, here is Of Montreal’s full Roseland show of October 10, 2008, all 109 glorious minutes of it:
Tons of pictures and a setlist, after the jump…...