They came with a flashy light show, with an array of costumes, including a few gaudy wigs, with dancers, one of whom was dressed as a wrestler and some of whom were bearing portable video screens that beamed images that embellished the visual orgy going on behind them, and with a large cache of flamboyant dance tunes, campy, glammy and groovy dance tunes — a mix of Scissor Sisters, Phoenix , a bit of Flaming Lips and some T. Rex and David Bowie, especially Bowie.
Imagine all of the above and you have an idea of the garish and highly engaging show the band Of Montreal delivered to a nearly full RecordBar on Friday night. The Athens, Ga., band is led by the preening Kevin Barnes, the group’s founder and only consistent member for more than 20 years. Barnes is a commanding, exuberant frontman, one who boldly indulges in theatrics and bouts of androgyny and gender-bending and manages to command attention on a stage brimming with visual stimuli.
He arrived sporting a woolly blond wig and the kind of garb Bowie might have worn in his Alladin Sane phase. He led his band into “Gratuitous Abysses,” a track off “Innocence Reaches,” the band’s latest full-length. Barnes is the band’s mastermind, the creator of all its sounds and images (and the sculptor behind the colorful figurines and tchotchkes available at the merchandise table). It’s all as arresting as it is whimsical and imaginative.
For about two hours, he and his band unleashed an array of sights and sounds, taking a rock-show performance to another realm of entertainment. The set list bounced about Of Montreal’s prodigious catalog, which spans more than a dozen full-lengths. It featured several other “Innocence” tracks, including “Let’s Relate,” “It’s Different For Girls” and “Sport and a Pastime.”
Of Montreal’s song titles can be as flashy and cryptic as the man who writes them: “We Will Commit Wolf Murder”; “Empyrean Abattoir”; “Enemy Gene.” During that one, Barnes was joined on stage by dancers dressed as large white winged butterfly-like creatures who engaged in flashy ballet as he sang. A few songs later, during “Falling in Love Again,” they would return, looking more menacing, like bats.
Barnes stayed in character throughout the show, changing his appearances along the way. The neon-red Cleopatra wig was a nice touch. Occasionally, he affected a personae that recalls Bill Hader’s “Stefon” character on “Saturday Night Live.”
Amid the long, gush of melodies and grooves, several songs stood out: “Fugitive Air,” a track from the “Lousy With Sylvianbriar” album that exuded a “Suffragette City” vibe and prompted one of several sing-alongs “Labyrinthian Pomp,” a standout track from the “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?” album; and the uber-campy “It’s Different For Girls,” an anti-misogyny rant — “They’re expected to sit / And take some lesser-man’s s**t” — with visuals that included a representation a uterus; and “Gronlandic Edit,” an electro-funky, bass-driven track from the “Hissing Fauna” album.
But really, this show felt like one, unbroken highlight: the sights and sounds of a creative force who knows how to take a crowd on a fantastic voyage.