The only living, breathing horse one is likely to encounter in Manhattan is of the carriage-attached sort in New York’s Central Park. So where, why and how the hell a big white horse appeared onstage during Of Montreal’s set at Roseland Ballroom on Oct. 10 was just one of the many perplexing oddities of the Athens, Ga., band’s show that night.
Equines aside, over-the-top has been the theme of the group’s live performances for a while now, so in many ways, the unexpected was expected. In the past, Of Montreal brainchild Kevin Barnes’ stage antics ranged from full-frontal nudity to wearing wedding dresses, and the list goes on and on. But this tour, in support of the wonderfully strange “Skeletal Lamping,” due Oct. 21 via Polyvinyl, takes the theatrics to a whole new level, as Barnes and his crew invite you into their bizarre, perverted and mesmerizing world to freak you out and blow you away.
The experience was much like attending an indie rock Broadway play, on another planet, in the future. Two elevated drum kits and projection screens framed a rotating stage, and a troupe of performers — dressed in everything from gold lame Buddha outfits to cowboy and nun costumes and animal masks — acted out various scenes to accompany the music.
Barnes was a spectacle unto himself, with countless costume changes and wince-inducing short shorts in-between. Much like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona, there’s a flamboyancy and androgyny to Barnes’ character, and he went from wearing a sombrero to hanging himself with a noose in a pink bathrobe to getting smeared in red paint.
Nearly all of “Skeletal Lamping” was previewed, and performed roughly in the same order the songs appear on the album. Barnes’ Georgie Fruit alter ego came to life with his Prince-like falsetto for funkier songs like “For Our Elegant Caste” and the sensual “St. Exquisite’s Confessions,” which found him nearly nude atop the horse (for good measure, Barnes later sang while wearing a centaur costume).
The somber “Touched Something’s Hollow” saw Barnes seated alone at the piano before transitioning seamlessly into the horn samples that liven “An Eluardian Instance.” “Mingsings” was a highlight of the new material, which coalesced into a stretched-out, trippy jam.
Hits from 2007’s “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer” such as “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” and the slinking groove of “Gronlandic Edit” were obvious crowd favorites, and other offerings from “Satanic Panic in the Attic” and “The Sunlandic Twins” like “Disconnect the Dots,” a harder-rocking version of “So Begins Our Alabee” and “Wrath Pinned to the Mist and Other Games” (which had long been absent from live sets after being featured in an Outback Steakhouse commercial) allowed the band to shine in all its pop glory.
For the encore, the band brought out Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT before launching into a completely unironic cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which got the crowd so riled up you’d think it was the early ’90s all over again.
Giant grins met with WTF confusion as concertgoers exited the venue. It was a bizarre, awesome evening that only Of Montreal could provide, and here’s to hoping things only get stranger from here.
Here is Of Montreal’s set list:
“So Begins Our Alabee”
“Triphallus, To Punctuate!”
“She’s a Rejector”
“For Our Elegant Caste”
“Touched Something’s Hollow”
“Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse”
“Wrath Pinned to the Mist and Other Games”
“Women’s Studies Victims”
“St. Exquisite Confessions”
“Eros’ Entropic Tundra”
“Nonpareil of Favor”
“October is Eternal”
“Disconnect the Dots”
“And I’ve Seen a Bloody Shadow”
“Beware Our Nubile Miscreants”
“A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger”
“Smells Like Teen Spirit”