Ahhhh. You know that feeling you get when you’ve been at work early, taken an afternoon nap, and wake up to find you resent the effort of going next door to fix yourself a coffee, let alone getting dressed, stepping out your front door and trudging to a gig? The world and by extension life itself is a terrible nuisance designed to trouble the living dead like me. So I did not take too kindly to the suggestion of actually going to see the support act, an invitation that, more often than not, leads to a shrug of the shoulders at best. The world of music is Darwinian after all, and support acts are usually dodos. This cantankerous theory is turned on its head by Kishi Bashi. The languid, orchestral music that greets me as I walk up the stairs to Sound Control’s first floor could accompany the posthumous amble up to the pearly gates…it really is touching on the divine.
Onstage appears to be some not-yet-conceived Oriental manifestation of Doctor Who, bow-tied and superhumanly talented. It’s a real shame that he then informs us that the next song will be his last. Named ‘Manchester’ after the city in which it was written, this closing track is an astoundingly beautiful combination of looped violin and vocals, which reaches something as transcendental as some of Beirut’s fine back catalogue. I feel slightly ashamed that I didn’t give the Of Montreal violinist a proper chance…I will heed P.R. advice more assiduously in the future…probably.
Athens, Georgia based Of Montreal need to sack their campaign team, because their gig has been downgraded from the HMV Ritz to Sound Control, and even this puny (by comparison) venue is only half full. Such a failure to launch is certainly not down to the band’s inability to put on a show. Anyone who has seen them live will know that their theatrical sets are irresistibly entertaining – I’m only really here because the last time I saw them frontman and artistic curator Kevin Barnes spent half the show tucked behind a piano cavorting in a horse’s head. Sure, £16.50 per ticket is a little steep, but just because this may seem expensive for a band that many people will greet with a blank stare when you mention their name, does not mean that you do not get value for money.
‘Gelid Ascent’ opener from latest album Paralytic Stalks starts things nicely, though for such a bouncy band it’s oddly dark. The Bowie-esque ‘Spiteful Intervention’ (from the outlandish outfits to the strained yet athletic vocals and songwriting much of what Of Montreal do is Bowie-esque) is much more characteristically fun and I love the chorus’ refrain, “There must be a more elegant solution.” The poppy ‘Famine Affair’ is a disco-y ELO-y affair, Of Montreal’s preoccupation with the 70s is always apparent.
Possibly, my favourite element of the show is the pair of performance gimps who appear, disappear and reappear in increasingly outlandish costumes that liberally reference pop culture. If they’re not scurrying around, dressed as ghosts having images projected onto them, they’re striding through the audience dressed as Spiderman, one on the other’s shoulders hugging each other. At one point they stride onto stage dressed as Batman, arms crossed, and unfold them to reveal these massive papier mâché breasts. It’s just so bizarre and funny. No, actually my favourite element is the strident and live favourite ‘She’s A Rejector’. How do you not dance to this stuff? This music could turn the most introverted, Morrissey-misfit into a Zumba-enthusiast. ‘Nonpareil of Favor’ and ‘Skeletal Lamping’ standout when suddenly after only an hour we’re onto the encore. For a band with such a large back catalogue and live appeal it feels frustratingly short. ‘Grolandic Edit’ rounds things off.
So sure, the show feels a little short, and this calls to mind my point about value for money. But this does not dim the fact that they offer outrageously brilliant entertainment, both musically and visually, and if a show feels too short it can only mean that you’ve had a great time. So next time they come to the former industrial capital of the world make sure you see them and get them upgraded rather than downgraded. Trust me, you won’t regret it.