Back in the 1970s and early 80s, two forms of popular music rivaled for dominance: Disco and Progressive Rock. These two worlds were diametrically opposed to each other, the Prog-Rockers considering themselves elitist artistes—always cool and, to quote one of their flagship bands, Pink Floyd, “Comfortably Numb.” The Disco crowd was about more superficial fun, glittery clothes and dancing. And somehow, the modern band Of Montreal, has successfully married the best of these two worlds.
Opening this August 14th show at St. Louis’ Mississippi Nights was the Minders from Portland, Oregon. Introduced by Beatle Bob, this band has had some serious critical acclaim and the compliments even extend to the late, great Elliott Smith, who covered their song, “Hooray for Tuesday.” The Minders churned out eminently singable, comfortable songs that feel as familiar as your favorite pair of slippers. And once you hear their catchy, smart, heartbreaking tunes, blended with layers upon layers of melody dancing with each other, it’s easy to understand how they hung out with peers like Smith.
After a short wait came the band everyone was waiting for: Of Montreal. There’s something about an Of Montreal crowd: gay (in both senses of the word) and retro-styled, playing catch with balls made of glo-sticks, holding hands, skipping down the aisles to the dance floor. Before the music even starts, the vibe is one of twee glee.
With lead singer Kevin Barnes’giddy opening lyrics, Let’s pretend we don’t exist. Let’s pretend we’re in Antarctica… (from the song, “Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games,”) a giddy, malformed, congo-line broke out on the dance floor and no one remained still for the rest of the evening. Of Montreal’s psychedelic disco, off-kilter swordplay, and constant clothes-changes (mostly women’s garments on this mostly-male band) kept things constantly fun.
Barnes took breaks between all the best songs from their terrific 2005 released CD, The Sunlandic Twins [Polyvinyl Records], such as “I Was Never Young,” to interject some odd banter, such as toasting the crowd and saying, “I’m drinking my own piss. Is that okay? Cuz that’s the way we do it in St. Louis!”
The same show they had just played at Lollapalooza less than two week’s prior, Of Montreal definitely shined in a venue with four walls, a decent sound system, and lights. (That’s not to say they lacked anything in the daytime, outdoor venue, however). The funny and angry tune, “She’s a Rejector” had the boys, especially, dancing and cheering, and who could not laugh to hear “Hissing Fauna”’s words: Eva I’m sorry, but you will never have me. To me you’re just some faggy girl, and I need a lover with soul power, and you ain’t got no soul power…
“Are there any white people in the audience tonight?” Barnes called out from the stage towards the end of the show. “We’d like to play a song by black people, cuz we love everybody… except Lutherans.” Then the band broke into a disco’d up version of the the Top Ten Gnarls Barkley hit, “Crazy.”
And crazy was an accurate way to wrap up this enchanted evening. “I have a rip in my jeans,” Barnes mused later. “I don’t know how it got there. It was a lost weekend, I did a lot of Novocain.” Novocain? Errr… okay. So, despite the frantic shenanigans, Barnes was ‘comfortably numb’—but this crowd sure wasn’t anesthetized. Whether you’re a Prog-Rocker or a Disco Duck, Of Montreal will leave you stunned.