After seeing Janelle Monae perform on Saturday night, it's no wonder that she was picked by Erykah Badu to open her most recent tour. Monae isn't just a great soul singer; her songwriting and her band set her far apart from the average R&B artist we've seen in recent years. It's as though Monae fused soul with psychedelic rock and funk in a way that could only really come out of Atlanta. Monae's raw energy and dynamism was infectious, and the crowd seemed entirely taken with every song.
The sheer diversity of Monae's material, all of it strong, was also noteworthy, because too many bands and artists using their own names for the project are surprisingly of a piece. We haven't seen many artists like Monae since Prince was more actively touring and releasing music with a similar proclivity for mixing genres with the same degree of artistic vision.
This Of Montreal show wasn't a repeat of the previous tour, in which the band looked like it had crawled out of the early-'70s British glam and prog-rock scene. Instead, everyone seemed to wear white except for Kevin Barnes, who wore an outfit of cool colors, looking like a foppish prince from a kingdom out of fantasy fiction. But before Barnes took the stage, some creatures with fish heads came on with shotguns and playfully menaced the audience.
Opening with "I Feel Ya' Strutter," the band sounded for all the world as though it had mastered the art of pulling great sound ideas from James Brown, Parliament, Sly & the Family Stone, Prince and Michael Jackson -- particularly Barnes's fluid shift from falsetto to tenor -- and fused it with the art terrorism of Frank Zappa's more performance-art-oriented shows. Was it funk, R&B, pop or psychedelic? All of the above, and, in being so, something different.
Throughout the show, a cast of costumed characters found their way onto the stage: gas-masked swordsmen; people wearing full body suits with black and white checkerboard patterns; angels; pig people; people with small skull masks and those with skull masks that fit entirely over the head. Barnes and company must've had a field day thinking this stuff up to bring some color and bizarro drama to the proceedings.
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At one point, the checkerboard people surfed the crowd, while Barnes came back on stage later riding something made up of four people mostly covered by a wrap to make them look like a four-headed, eight-legged creature. After dismounting from it, Barnes suddenly had huge, silvery wings that he twirled around him, with two other performers on stage with wings of their own.
Over the course of an hour and a half, the band lost no momentum, as Barnes danced in a myriad of ways the entire time. At the end of the main set, a creature with a bullet-shaped head that had been on stage earlier ejected a stream of white feathers from its head out into the audience for a handful of minutes, completing the wildly festive environment Of Montreal seems to bring to every show. But these people didn't want to leave us hanging, and Barnes and the band came back on stage to do a medley of Michael Jackson songs, beginning with "Thriller" and ending with "Pretty Young Thing."
Click through for Critic's Notebook and Setlist.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Kevin Barnes and Of Montreal have made some of my favorite music of recent years. Random Detail: The Of Montreal merch didn't cost an arm and a leg. By the Way: Getting blitzed out of your mind before the show seems like a dumb way to cheat yourself out of actually experiencing a show.
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Of Montreal 10.24.10 | Ogden Theatre Denver, CO
01. I Feel Ya' Strutter 02. Gronlandic Edit 03. Suffer for Fashion 04. Our Riotous Defects 05. Enemy Gene 06. Sex Karma 07. Girl Named Hello 08. St. Exquisite's Confession 09. Like a Tourist 10. Hydra Fancies 11. She's a Rejecter 12. ? 13. Casualty of You 14. Around the Way 15. Heimsdalgate Like a Promethean Curse 16. Coquet Coquette 17. A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger
18. Thriller [Michael Jackson] 19. Wanna Be Starting Something [Michael Jackson] 20. Pretty Young Thing [Michael Jackson]