Friday Night: Of Montreal at the Regency Center
The Regency Center (1290 Sutter St.)
November 21, 2008
Review by Ashley Harrell
Photos by Rachel Hubbard
Of Montreal front man Kevin Barnes and his band of psychedelic indie poppers, who seemingly support an eternal Halloween, overheated San Francisco's Regency Grand Ballroom Friday night with yet another histrionic, sparkle-happy, and downright absurd performance.
The overheating part was no joke. This show was so frenetic, the conditions so sweltering, that some audience members began passing out, and the Regency had to blast the AC mid-show while security guards handed out free bottles of water. It's easy to understand why people didn't make for the bar to get their own water, as from the beginning, the show was thoroughly engrossing. I wouldn't be surprised if somebody pissed on the floor rather than miss the action, and people likely showed up knowing this was a possibility.
The five-man, one-woman band from Athens, Georgia, which sprang from the Elephant 6 collective in 1997 with Barnes - a larger-than-life guitarist/vocalist who does a lot of emoting and screaming - at the helm, is known for making a scene.
For his intro, Barnes popped out of a silver-shrouded magic box presented by minions dressed in golden ogre costumes. He wore a sparkly purple blouse and tiny blue stretch pants (perhaps meant to suggest he was not Barnes at all, but Georgie Fruit, Barnes stage alter-ego who happens to be an African-American tranny). He then changed costumes more times than an average person changes clothing in a week, eventually disrobing to orange shorty-shorts and nothing else, just before a group of performers in black body suits and sparkly silver masks painted their leader's body blood red, and dressed him in a centaur costume.
"Kevin Barnes is the new Bowie," declared an audience member who had traveled 800 miles from Tacoma, Washington, to see the show.
Though Barnes was the undisputed star, intermittent skits featured a dozen silent costumed actors fighting and creeping around and tossing sparkle confetti. At one point a woman wearing a fake pig's head banged on a table for food, and was then served by a man in a tiger's head and a white tuxedo. Apparently the food - which resembled ham - was unacceptable, and the pig chucked it into the audience.
There was also music being played. The band went through plenty of choice songs off its exceptional 2007 album, "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?" though it skipped the gut-wrenchingly personal "The Past is a Grotesque Animal." Nearly all the selections were pop-driven, inducing plenty of jumping and dancing both on stage and in the audience, but Barnes paused all that when he sat down at the piano for "Touched Something's Hollow" - a somber song asking how long its damaged narrator can hold on.
The brief period of reflection ended abruptly with the up-beat, egocentric "Gallery Piece" and all was forgotten when Barnes stripped down to his underwear and marched around the stage screaming and panting and defining freedom with his every gesture. After nearly two hours of high-impact music and theater, and an equally energized encore, Barnes addressed one of his favorite cities.
"Thank you for letting us be ourselves," he told San Francisco, and left the stage.