live review

Of Montreal

Of Montreal

February 25 2009
Kings Arms Tavern, Auckland

Reviewed by Clayton Foster
29th March 2010

When word came through last year that indie-pop royalty Of Montreal would be coming to play in Auckland, excited hands started flapping in an appropriately effete way. The band is renowned for their live act (witness photos of frontman Kevin Barnes singing shirtless and made up on top of a horse), and have even had accolades such as “best live act” thrown upon them with anticipation-building regularity. That said, if there was a word to describe their Auckland gig it would be: okay. Which one can’t help but feel is somewhat of a letdown from the “OMG best live gig eva!!!” rhetoric on the net. Seeming largely disinterested in being there, Barnes & co. played only seldom looking up, the singer heavy-lidded and expressionless, his cohorts vacantly smiling or often seeming to be interested in the light-fittings. Whether they were merely experts at the “I’m-so-indie-nothing-amuses-me” routine, or truly disengaged with playing to what seemed to be a similarly low-energy crowd (to be fair to all, the King’s Arms was once again stinking hot), who can tell? The sound was, again, fine, and Barnes’ vocals matched the somewhat distracted look on his face. There’s irony here: within their songs they often lampoon the superficial elements of the indie scene; but here they were either lampooning to a point of total mimicry, or merely indicative of these elements themselves. Did we not forgo the its-cool-to-look-bored thing in the 90s?

Some colour was added by costumed actors who regularly climbed on stage and carried out some takes-itself-so-seriously-it-must-be-comic performance. Generally they followed a sort of surreal/grotesque transformative line (bishop turns into devil, man dressed as sexy girl turns into weird horror motif, giant gold Buddha strips to reveal a performer in black jumpsuit underneath). In a typical act this type of element could be seen as tongue-in-cheek mockery of the po-faced performance art scene, though by the way the band begrudgingly shared stage space (Barnes shuffled to the side of the stage to let the performers on without otherwise acknowledging them) you wonder how well-implemented the joke is. Even more cynically, you could wonder whether its a joke at all.

Overall, however, it was still a kick to see live some of their great songs from 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Barnes epic ode to his own depression and recovery and one of the greatest albums of the past few years, though the performances seem so much stronger and more impactful listening rather than seeing. Perhaps this is because when you’re absorbing Barnes’ expert dissections of the modern scene while sitting in your living room, you can’t see him vacantly staring at the floor.



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