of Montreal w/ Pillar Point, Battlehooch
Oct. 15, 2014
Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
“You’ve got Bob Dylan, you’ve got John Lennon, and you’ve got Kevin Barnes,” a young gentleman said to me during of Montreal’s show Wednesday at the Great American Music Hall. “His lyrics have gotten me out of some bad places.”
Though Kevin Barnes, frontman and lyricist for the glammish funkish rock group of Montreal (of Athens, Ga.) is indeed a sensational songwriter whose lyrics are equally fluent in phenomenology and pornography, I’m not sure he’d feel comfortable in the role of savior. The reliable lineup of stunts and skits that an of Montreal show entails – massive puppets, mock combat, cheerleaderish stackings of bodies, and, on at least one past occasion, Christlike distribution of slices of pre-packaged ham among audience members – seems designed to distract from the formidable heart with which Barnes leads his band, just as the brazenly intelligent lyrical gymnastics of the songs seem aimed at obscuring a gooey center. None of this, Barnes seems to be constantly announcing, is the point. Which is precisely the point.
Wednesday’s show was the second of two the band played at the Great American Music Hall, and the house appeared filled mostly with longtime of Montreal devotees. During the second opener (a loud yet mild synthy group called Pillar Point), I was beside two women who’d also attended the previous night’s show, bashful in their fandom until I revealed that mine was comparable. I asked how the show had been the night before.
“Kevin was moody,” one of the women said. “He seemed tired.”
I suggested that maybe he’d perk up tonight, since he hadn’t had to travel today, and she nodded, vigorously and with relief.
We were up in the balcony, but once Pillar Point finished their set, the women moved downstairs to weave their way up to the stage, amid the dancing and the glittered and the costumed (I’m thinking particularly of a trio I saw wearing antlers on their heads), who, once Barnes et al. appeared, became the shrieking. One headbanded woman spent the show writhing and bent over the stage in what appeared to be the throes of sexual ecstasy – and not in your well-trod rock-star-groupie tradition, given that Barnes’s stage persona (Georgie Fruit, in the manner of Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce) is almost aggressively androgynous, as if David Bowie were a satyr.
of Montreal’s body of work is intimidatingly large (12 records since their 1996 founding) and contains nothing that might be called a conventional hit (with the exception of “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games,” which years ago was featured in an Outback Steakhouse ad), so it’s difficult to identify or predict a set’s contents, even after having seen the band several times. The closest thing to a mainstay is “Gronlandic Edit” (“Physics makes us all its bitches”), which is a sedate recording but in performance gains the frantically festive aspect of a battle cry. Other of the set’s beloved were “Coquet Coquette” (“I don’t want to catch you with some other guy’s face/Under your eyelids”), “The Party’s Crashing Us” (“You freed me from the past/You fucked the suburbs out of me”), and the set-closing “She’s a Rejecter” (“That’s the girl that left me bitter/Want to pay some other girl to just walk up to her and hit her”).
Other notables included, in the middle of the set, the uncharacteristically simple and sweet “Honeymoon in San Francisco” (“A love song to you,” Barnes told us) and a deeply felt cover of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones.”
But following this slow and tender interlude, things were back on the typical track, with “Plastis Wafers” (“Lover face, wanna make you ejaculate/Until it’s no longer fun”) and “St. Exquisite’s Confessions,” during which Barnes, as expected, disrobed from the waist up, and the people in the front row screamed and clung to themselves.
Prior to the show, I’d told a man in the balcony who was working on a cure for certain cancers that my favorite of Montreal song was “Oslo in the Summertime,” a haunting and soft-spoken track from The Sunlandic Twins, with an intrusively catchy wordless chorus, written about Barnes’s son. It has the soothing yet sinister quality of a nursery rhyme. When, near the end of the set, Barnes began the song, the man tapped me on the shoulder and pointed meaningfully. Down on the stage, Barnes’s body-suited henchpeople were forming a human throne for him to sit on.
“I practice my Norwegian on poor befuddled waitresses,” Barnes said, mounting the structure, “who shake their heads completely at a loss.” The people up front reached forward and grasped for his ankles. To a certain extent, the lyric remained true – Barnes does speak our language, although not the version most of us do. But we, unlike the waitresses, understood him perfectly.
Set List: Suffer for Fashion | Triumph of Disintegration | You Do Mutilate? | Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games | Last Rites at the Jane Hotel | Coquet Coquette | Honeymoon in San Francisco | Malefic Dowry | The Beautiful Ones [Prince cover] | Plastis Wafers | St. Exquisite’s Confessions | Oslo in the Summertime | The Party’s Crashing Us | Gronlandic Edit | She’s a Rejecter
Encore: Candyman | A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger | Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse | The Past Is a Grotesque Animal