Of Montreal Explored Images of Gender, Innocence and Electronica at the Bluebird

Of Montreal at the Bluebird Theater on October 17, 2016.
Of Montreal at the Bluebird Theater on October 17, 2016.
Coxitron Photography

Of Montreal walked out on stage last night at the Bluebird Theater in Denver wearing black hooded capes. The one on frontman Kevin Barnes could have been a Jedi-knight-inspired take on the Grim Reaper; he quickly threw it off as the set began, only to reveal another cape underneath (this one transparent and floral) as well as a white pinafore, thigh-high red tights, red lipstick and a flapper head cap. Opening with “Different for Girls,” which succeeds at being a feminist anthem from a masculine perspective, Of Montreal quickly established that it is a band exactly of its time. The show introduced enough visual spectacle to raise doubts about how the musicians would keep it coming – doubts that later proved unnecessary.

There were psychedelic polka-dot projections and dancers wearing bodysuits and masks that brought to life the album art from this year's Innocence Reaches. By the second song, most of the audience was bouncing, and it was clear that if we weren’t having fun, then we were probably missing the point.

The crowd was a diverse mix of ages skewing heavily toward early-twenty-somethings who might have described the show as “totally lit.” Among them were quite a few neon wigs, costumes and men in dresses, most of whom gravitated close to the stage.

Of Montreal at the Bluebird Theater on October 17, 2016.
Of Montreal at the Bluebird Theater on October 17, 2016.
Coxitron Photography

By the time Barnes stripped down to his underwear — four songs in, at the end of “A Sport and a Pastime” — and left the stage for the first of five costume changes, the audience was primed to cheer wildly. Even so, the action felt less “sex object” and somehow more like an encouraging message of empowered self-ownership for everybody. Barnes embodies a kind of playful innocence in the way he experiments with gender expression and the lyrics he sings relating to it (“How do you identify/How do you I.D.?/Are you something fashion wild?/Talk to me”) that comes across as endearing, hopeful and overwhelmingly positive. This quality of persona allows him to sing lines like “I don’t want to be mine anymore/I want to be yours/I wanna lose my ego/I want to be possessed by you” in a way that sounds more like enlightened commentary than clingy love language.

The set was heavy on material from the new album, which is more EDM-influenced than the ’60s-pop-inspired prog rock of the band's past releases. Most songs were upbeat and danceable, but the band put on a show so full of visuals that the music sometimes receded into the almost-background, feeling like a soundtrack to the main event. Highlights included Barnes re-emerging on stage in yet another cape with a pointy pink hood that strongly suggested his head was inside of a giant vagina. Just in case there was any question, the projector played a slideshow of other unmistakably vaginal objects occurring in nature as the band played “Wicked Wisdom." At one point, a very large two-person hedgehog danced around the stage, and small white feathers were shot into the audience like confetti. Not too much later, a Donald Trump figured appeared in a blow-up penis suit to be reprimanded by dancers in police uniforms. The visuals served to reinforce the music’s exploration of gender identity, albeit sometimes heavy-handedly.

Of Montreal closed the night by coming back to the chorus of “It’s Different for Girls." This time, Barnes wore a baseball cap with “BOY” emblazoned on the front over a hot-pink wig. During the encore, the floor itself could be felt bobbing along with the audience. The final song of the night was a Bowie/Prince medley of “The Man Who Sold the World” and “1999," a fitting tribute for a show that owes so much of its freedom of expression across the gender spectrum to both artists. Perhaps Of Montreal is so appropriate for its time because Bowie and Prince were just a little ahead of theirs. 


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