of Montreal – Koko, London 10/16/2008

What can you say about of Montreal that hasn’t been said before? Well quite a lot actually, nobody ever has been or will be able to cover it all. The flamboyant band are never without that shock factor that will leave you scrambling for your thesaurus to look up the appropriate superlative to describe them and this is even more true when it comes to their live show.

Tonight’s gig is of Montreal’s only official performance in the United Kingdom on this whistle-stop tour of Europe which includes seven shows in seven countries in seven days (!) before returning back across the Atlantic. With this much movement they can’t bring all the props and stage sets that have been known to feature on their American leg. Still that doesn’t by any means mean that tonight is a “normal” gig.

This tour is in support of the new album Skeletal Lamping that is due out next week. Of Montreal have obviously rehearsed long and hard for this tour, for it is more than a band playing songs, this is a performance in more ways than one.

The first song tonight is ‘Id Engager’, which is the last song from the new album but happens to be the first single. It’s a crowd pleasing opening as the band are joined onstage by two people dressed as the Sunlandic Twins who perform simple yet strangely cute dance moves with singer Kevin Barnes along to the chorus of the song. The song itself is a strong opener including screams, a bouncy bassline, a sing along chorus and ninjas randomly appearing on cue from the lyrics. Following hotly on the heels of this is an older song ‘So Begins our Alabee’ and when Barnes sings “So begins our odyssey” he isn’t exaggerating.

The songs come thick and fast and without a moments breath, running straight from one into the next. For the first half of the concert, new songs are played including highlight ‘For Our Elegant Caste’. These are broken up with nicely spaced old crowd favorites. The biggest cheer of the night comes when the mood takes a sudden shift from the upbeat vibes of Skeletal Lamping to the paranoid musings of Hissing Fauna… as Barnes intones “I’m in a crisis…” signifying the start of ‘Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse’. This also invokes the crowd into a frenzy of movement that can only be described as “dance moshing”. This momentum is carried on through the next couple of songs ‘Gallery Piece’ and ‘Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games’ which fly by.

At this stage Skeletal Lamping takes full control. For the next half hour to forty minutes the band plays solely new songs roughly in the order that they appear on the album. On record the album can go sprawling on for long periods of time with songs bleeding into others and choruses can be few and far between. This at points, especially live, can become uninteresting and attention will diminish. Luckily of Montreal have a few tricks up their sleeve so all is not lost.

At seemingly random points during the songs people, who can only be described as “support performers” take to the stage and carry out various activities. This includes people dressed as a chicken and a pig being beaten up by a tiger and four people creating a tableau which the band members will then mold into a new shape by pushing and molding the subjects’ limbs appropriately. This is all happening while the band continues to play. Perhaps the most interesting part is when Barnes retakes the stage after an extended absence, wearing a red robe and accompanied by goblin looking “servants”. The robe is then removed to leave Barnes stood on stage completely naked but for his underwear. This display turns a shade macabre as barns proceeds to lie down at the front of the stage and have cranberries smeared all over him until he is covered in blood red juice. This is theatre the of Montreal way.

As for the music, the bands focus is never interrupted even if the crowd’s might have been. They ramble through the tracks in one long procession and Kevin shows his dancing talents, slipping and sliding across the stage in time with the angular guitars and pounding drum rhythms. Although there are several songs played, they are strewn together and variation is minimal. Hooks and choruses that might define one song from the next are not obvious. The crowd watch patiently but they are not as involved or lively as they were during the first half. The highlight is ‘Nonpareil of Favor’ which rocks out and makes the most of the double drum kit set up that the band have on stage tonight. The crash cymbals are destroyed as they are beaten mercilessly in time with the the rest of the band during the build up of the song.

The streak of Skeletal Lamping songs is brought to an end with ‘A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger’. This is undeniably a dance number and the crowd are moving once again. A triumphant performance sees the end of the main set.

There are a few doubts as to whether the band will return to the stage, having already played the allotted 75 minutes, but the “animals” return to the stage to lead the crowd in recalling the band for an encore.

The first person out is newest member Ahmed Gallab who gives an endearing speech about how he was born in London and how much it means to him to play here tonight. The band then return to the stage and the emotional part is over and it’s time to rock. This dose of rock comes in the form of ‘Gronalndic Edit’ followed by a cover of the Nirvana classic ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (this time without MGMT). I’m pretty sure Nirvana didn’t look anything like this when they played but regardless of whether of Montreal look the part or not they certainly do the song justice. Even Dave Grohl playing his hardest couldn’t have made as much noise as the double drum kits here, and the rest of the band seem to be channeling the spirit of Kurt Cobain as they blow the roof off. This turns out to be the last song of the night, and strange as it might be to finish with a cover it can’t be denied that it left a lasting on impression on the crowd, which is what all good closers should do.

At the end of the day there is no way that anybody who attended this show could not have been entertained. The only qualms people may have had could have been with the choices of songs. This performance was undeniably a showcase of the new album, which may not have been to the satisfaction to some of the audience, especially seeing as it has not (officially) been released yet. Wont as we are to hearing bands playing the crowd-pleasers, we can’t blame of Montreal for wanting to stick to new material, especially after all the work that’s been put into it. As for the props and additional entertainment on stage, there was a part of me that was disappointed that we didn’t get Barnes arriving on stage on the back of a stallion or the myriad of other fantasies they have been playing out on their American tour. However in the end the little that we did get to see was still extremely entertaining and having less to watch gave us more time to listen to the music which is, after all, what the night was really all about.

– Rob H.

Set List:
Id Engager
So Begins Our Alabee
Triphallus, To Punctuate!
She’s A Rejector
For Our Elegant Caste
Touched Something’s Hollow
An Eluardian Instance
Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse
Gallery Piece
Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games
Women’s Studies Victims
St. Exquisite’s Confessions
Nonpareil of Favour
(Interlude/Costume Change)
And I’ve Seen A Bloody Shadow
Plastis Wafers
Beware Our Nubile Miscreants
A Sentence of Sorts In Kongsvinger

Gronlandic Edit
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana cover)