Of Montreal, Deerhoof, Kishi Bashi at the Crystal Ballroom, Friday March 23
Photos by Daniel Cronin
Verbal relays of visually gratifying experiences are typically futile gestures, well-intended though they may be. I’ve been hearing tale for years of the utterly chaotic ocular ambush forged by chameleonic collective Of Montreal, little of which I could actually understand, being pretty much a “spectacular live show!” novice. Example: I thought that SNFU’s Mr. Chi Pig shooting a water pistol at the crowd during a Boy Scout’s Hall show in 1999 was totally rad. I guess there are slightly more engaging shticks over the rainbow-—over the rainbow being the most likely place you’d find Of Montreal’s spacey psych-disco and funk-glam oeuvre running on repeat over the Big Brother mains.
Full review and photos after the jump!
First, a hiccup in my synopsis of this excellent show bears mentioning. Look, sometimes people fuck up, stay outside the venue for that extra cigarette before joining the fray on the inside, and presume a show couldn’t possibly start on time. Sometimes these people are scheduled to write live reviews of the show, and miss the opening act altogether thanks to fleeting bouts of procrastination under neon-illumed sidewalks with interesting people all over the place. So, yeah, I totally missed Kishi Bashi’s set, which made me feel not only like an enormous butthole, but also a total amateur. But then the bartender inside let me order three beers (on the DL) for myself. I felt better after that.
But despite my utter failure, my show sidekick, certified black-belt photography guru Daniel Cronin, caught Kishi Bashi’s set (he’s punctual), and filed this brief, but likely accurate synopsis:
“Kishi Bashi played a short but sweet set. He mesmerized the crowd with virtuosic violin loops, which he then crooned over.”
Kishi Bashi’s (aka K Ishibashi, violinist for Of Montreal) exceedingly impressive, beautifully orchestrated debut record 151a, will be out via Joyful Noise Recordings on April 10. Go buy it and rejoice. Seriously, it’s amazing.
Compared to the impending total stimuli expected for Of Montreal’s headlining set, Deerhoof smartly let the expanses of their impressively dense body of work do the strutting. Drummer Greg Saunier took the minimalism more to heart, choosing to articulate his spastic tom-tom algorithms with only a kick drum, snare, hi-hat and ride cymbal, creating a din of roiling paradiddle panache that few other drummers may have been able to pull off with more equipment. Vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki was spry, lovely and very much removed from the almost sheepish frontwoman she embodied during the band’s last Portland performance at Holocene in early 2011 just after Deerhoof Vs. Evil was released.
The group found a comfortable set full of the more Bonham-beat-centric, classic-rock permutations than from their wealth of math-y avant-garde epics, a tempering feat that speaks to the band’s professionalism after almost 20 years in the game. With an octet of insane musicians in their own right looming just off stage to pepper the crowd with a nearly-two-hour set, getting your songs in, flawlessly executed and under the watchful gaze of the stage manager is a talent in and of itself.
Shrouded in an ocean of shrieks and applause, Of Montreal strode onstage and immediately commanded the crowd. Frontman Kevin Barnes perched at his keyboard at the front of the stage while the band ripped into “Gelid Ascent,” the opening track from their new album Paralytic Stalks. With hallucinogenic visuals, and roving men mummified in full-bodied white onesies serving as mobile projector screens for the swirling stabs of psychedelic pomp, I started to understand what the fuss was about. The live show is a total mindfuck, extrapolating bold forays outside of solely a circa ’82 P-Funk circus by adding corporeal elements meant to expand the impact of both the musical and lyrical themes. Sustaining the steady crowd-surf of a strange, faceless man with blotter blips bleeding about him takes some kind of amazing devotion, especially if you were tripping major balls, which I’d gauged at least 35 percent of the crowd to be. Throw in the releasing of reflective white balloons, the screened clip-art projections of trees rising from the broken earth, cloudy skies giving way to sunny suns, muerto skulls and painted faces, and there was ample stimulation for almost all of your senses.
Barnes commanded his musical vessel deftly, at turns spinning yarn as a bouncy, devil-may-care disco god, and then brooding behind guitar-heavy bouts of post-rock as on the pre-encore 10-minute-plus “The Past is a Grotesque Animal.” The more reigned-in vibe of the band’s newest collection of tunes, as opposed to the glittery theatrics of, say, 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer?, was folded in well, creating a seamless set that catered to the band’s obvious enjoyment, as well as the audience’s.
That Of Montreal take themselves seriously enough to make you take them very seriously is the high bar of their jumbled, jammy art. They know you’re watching; you’re right there, eyes agape, mouthing syllabics to a beat. They’re able to turn their gaze behind you to see what you’re seeing: a spectacle on stage bouncing to that same beat, with a ravenous crowd thumping in tandem. The performance was a self-referential vortex, possibly completely hyperbolized by my jaw-dropped disposition. Whatever it was, the experience has been cemented as one my favorite performances in a very long time.