Search This Blog

Monday, February 16, 2009

Soft-Porn Theater-Pop: Of Montreal Live, Bataclan 31/1/2009

A Kevin Barnes-led OM concert is a well-choreographed affair. It leaves not a second to the between songs audience-band banter and request-shouts for which many rock concerts are known and loved. But the cost of that loss is more than returned in entertaining spectacle.

Indeed, OM concerts might be viewed as theater with soundtracks that threaten to overshadow the former. But the reverse is actually the case. They are tight live versions of impressively creative yet patently poppy studio productions. The theatrical aspect is an accompaniment that is nevertheless at times pleasantly distracting. The combination makes for such a rich affair that a critic is left pondering the event for days afterwards, as if he/she had devoured an enigmatic high modernist novel or witnessed some production of postmodern performance art.



A comparison of concert clips from YouTube suggests that OM concerts depend on what resources their venues offer. The Paris show, like many others, begins with the backdrop of a video projector screen on which parades a psychedelic swirl of images. The motifs suggest an ironic obsession with Christian and Satan-worship—crucifixes and pentads, half-humans and half-beasts. It’s clearly playful, yet in our post-Black Sabbath and –Ozzy Osbourne era, it is hardly provocative, but is, instead, kitschy, even somewhat cheesy. Its self-awareness is supposed to protect its creators from any critical rebukes. Besides, the overly-analytical critic is left wondering why these motifs? and is tempted to conclude they are some sort of response to a repressive Christian cultural context on par with that which proved so fertile for the medieval wildness of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Those images are occasionally mixed with the more common big-screen reflections of the on-stage performance, a courtesy for those watching from the hinterlands of the mid-sized venue.



The on-stage spectacle mirrors the cinematic backdrop, or perhaps it’s vice-versa. Scenes of flagellation, dorky parents in vintage seventies apparel berating a teenage son. Staged fights between archetypal heroes and villains. Sexy half-dance routines by actors in Oogie Boogie (Nightmare Before Christmas) or Golden Buddha body socks, who fawn around Barnes and other band members. And characters prowling about peeling off mask after mask.



All the acting and dancing does appear to have some connection to the lyrics, the songs. Take for example, “And I’ve Seen a Bloody Shadow,” from their latest, Skeletal Lamping. “My mind is exploding with sappy murders they/really poison my sexuality/
How can I function there's no more Apollonian beauty to behold?” Barnes coquettishly lilts. “Lilli van the heart is not dead/
It's just bad weather in my temporary head.” Masks, bad dreams, violence, sexuality, beauty—that about sums up the highly psychological themes that comprise Barnes’ briefcase of lyrics, even if critics have seen some albums as more personal than others.

While the other band members dutifully perform their roles (some more obviously cheerfully than others) Barnes brings a gender-bending, glam sexiness to the spotlight. His stage personae has overtones of Alice Cooper, Kiss, Bowie, Prince, and a less boogie-shoed Beck. He loves to tease his ideal audience, at one point stripping down to a speedo. Indeed, there’s something border-line soft porn about the whole thing.

Still, while all these audio-visual accompaniments (for some, distractions) are entertaining, there remains the music, only partly lyrical, since his poetry is often not transparently meaningful anyway. OM has been known to shift musical gears from album to album, privileging light pop and then electronica, now something loveably techno- and/or guitar-poppy, sometimes funky or soulful, and certainly much more of this whole mélange on Skeletal Lamping, which was showcased in this concert, in addition to a fair number of songs from their last album, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? These albums are gems in their own right, and Barnes must be credited as one of the most talented contemporary composers of this intersection of genres. But OM live has “added value.” Poetic, theatrical, sexy, humorous, and catchily danceable, OM concerts including this one are, above all, fun.


(also appears on IvyParis.com and Blogcritics Magazine)

No comments:

Formerly "Parisnormale: Paris Rocks"