Still bonkers, still wonderful
of Montreal - Live At The Irish Centre, Leeds

When of Montreal first invented themselves as an all-out, electro party band, many gushed at their feet. ‘Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?’ was a perfect parcel of lead singer Kevin Barnes' breakdowns, fallouts and eccentricity. Coupled with multi-layered synths, wacky guitar solos and deeply personal lyrics it became the album to equally elevate and destroy a mood.

Joined by an elaborate stage show which involved nakedness, huge theatrical performances and costumes influenced by Bowie and Prince, of Montreal were like a sickly sweet breakdown on LSD. But now five years on from ‘Hissing Fauna’ their latest album, ‘Paralytic Stalks’, has become awash with jarring synths and bizarre vocals, taking the group further into obscurity.

And if appearances are anything to go by then of Montreal have definitely let themselves go. Once a sex icon – lead singer Kevin Barnes is now accompanied by a wash of matted hair on one side, while guitarist Bryan Poole’s sideburns are so big he’s in danger of outshining Anton Newcombe in Dig! Enlarged by an eight strong ensemble each band member is packed onto the tiny stage resembling a ‘70s living room. This could either be disastrous or something uniquely unbelievable.

Bursting with bright projections, Barnes and co rattle through ‘Paralytic Stalks’ with unbalanced synth rhythms and loud piano melodies. With layer upon layer of amplified bass, each song fails to start, with Barnes instead hiding behind a piano and dark, spoken lyrics. Of Montreal were always a band with theatrics – yet for the first time they look vulnerable onstage. Barnes’ unique showmanship has been squandered in a bid for extra members that do little but dilute the group’s sound. It’s clear the band’s dynamic has shifted. Many songs are unrecognisable until Barnes’ trademark vocals appear, with instruments chopped and changed from the original recordings.

But he is still aware of what an audience wants. Quickly moving onto ‘Skeletal Lamping’ and ‘Hissing Fauna’, we’re taken aback as he struts like Prince, soaring into high pitched, almost a capella vocals. ‘Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider’ oozes with pop-bass funk while ‘Cato As A Pun’ brings back the sexy dazzling disco that became the group’s signature sound.

As the stage is taken over by dancers (dressed as batman wearing false boobs) ‘She’s A Rejector’ turns the room into a whirlwind of glitz and chaos as we’re engulfed by balloons and confetti. Suddenly leaping into life, Barnes transforms the crowd into a house party for ‘Suffer For Fashion’ followed by disco-pop ‘The Party’s Crashing Us’.

Despite the band’s output waning of late, it’s heart-warming to know of Montreal’s spectacular live show hasn’t suffered. As two men dressed as pigs cajole the audience into cheering while they wrestle, it’s clear they’re as bonkers and as wonderful as ever.

Words by Ruth Offord
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