October 24: Of Montreal, Janelle Monae

There are no bad things that can be said about a show that is rich in theatrics, costume changes, tricks of lighting, giant fake television set-pieces and ends with a medley of good Michael Jackson covers. When two acts are so relentlessly active, so evocative, as Of Montreal and Janelle Monae were on Sunday night, they inject life into an audience that cannot be ignored, or perhaps more creepily, resisted. I attended this show primarily for the opportunity to witness Janelle Monae in person. I quickly hopped on that bandwagon; addicted to her bright, soulful vocals and songs that are fraught with a fantasy-sci-fi combo that is remarkably poignant as social commentary (and also exceedingly self-aware). Monae is a purveyor dance, fun music, that extends beyond its own mold of merely providing a beat to say more about the nature of love, and the way our world oppresses us at our own hand. Of Montreal is a band I have loved, specifically for Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and 2008's Skeletal Lamping, over the last few years. I had read a lot about them and heard a great bit of anecdotal accounts of their live performance, but I had never seen the chaos myself. After seeing, Of Montreal is a sort of "bucket list band" that I'd recommend seeing live, preferably in their current prime, before dying.

The show began with Monae's face, dressed as her character the ArchAndroid, was projected above the stage. After a brief exposition, to drive the compelling story of sci-fi robo-oppression, she cried to the crowd, "There is only one rule tonight: Dance or die." And dance we did. Monae performed close to half the songs on her new album, hitting the highlights of "Cold War," "Tightrope," and "Wondaland." The show was pure energy, fueled by drama and motion. And costumes. Monae appeared initially as one of three cloaked figures. Facing away from the stage she began her first number, and in time, the hood came down to reveal her trademark pompadour, and from there her performance was lively, powerful and loaded with sharp footwork. Often, instead of back up dancers, Monae was flanked by cloaked figures or masked creatures, each group playing into the active performance art of the song. Whether painting numbers in acrylic on a blank canvas, live, throughout a soulful lament, or "gunning down" oppressive figures with her finger-guns, the show was all about activity. The fact that she wasn't the headliner was disappointing, if only because it would have meant a few more stolen moments in her presence. Also, she might've played "Oh, Maker" or "Come Alive (War of the Roses)."

After Monae, Of Montreal upped the ante on the performance art end of things. Singer Kevin Barnes appeared on stage wearing tights, a sort of skirt-apron hybrid, a frilled shirt and a vest. Truly, this is a sight to behold, even if you don't like/love their music. Again, it's the energy factor. Barnes and the whole band are working at full, break-neck speed. And that's even before a sequence of costume changes and guest appearances to the stage. Like Monae, Of Montreal had groups of characters roaming and populating the stage. Notably a pair of pigs, a man and a woman in pink bodysuits, wearing pig helmet-masks. Barnes and the woman pig share a sensual, and brilliantly vivid grind-session, at least until the man pig grows jealous, setting the stage into chaos as Barnes continues to narrate and attempts to escape the angry beast. Ultimately, the skit (if I can call it that without sounding like an asshole) is a about polyamory, among other things that may be weird or "evocative," and it is all well executed. Other highlights included aliens with fish-heads, bullet/vibrator-headed robots, and a group of asexual checkered body-suit clowns. And really, this only gives you a rough idea of the whole experience. Of Montreal is like Cirque du Soleil, as depicted in the mushroom-trip-scene in the film Knocked Up, but better.

And that doesn't even cover the musicianship, the vocals and the fact that the band makes you want to dance. Or that they closed with an encore consisting of "Thriller," "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," and "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)," which is possibly one of the most excellent uses of the cover-song close that I've witnessed. This was a show that was technically exceptional and irreplaceable as an experience. Should you get the chance to see either band, or both, to bear witness to their unique, united spectacle, then take it. Go, see the magical oddities and strange fantasies unfold because you're really getting 4 shows in one (Monae + theatrics + Of Montreal + circus maximum = 4 SHOWS).

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