There I am, standing outside the Academy at 2.42pm, eating an apple that’s serving as a replacement for breakfast in case I need food to avoid freaking out. I’m about to meet and interview Kevin Barnes. If you want my opinion on Kevin Barnes, it’s here and here. If you don’t know who he is, he’s basically of Montreal, although you have pretty much no excuse for not knowing that.
A guy walks past me to the door with a paper bag. There are arms sticking out of it. I ask him if he’s going in, walk in with him and proceed to make small talk.
“Did you buy some arms?”
“Yeah man. 2 euro store. Some fake arms, some fake blood. And these silver gorilla masks. Gotta take advantage of the local plenty you know?”
This was David Barnes, Kevin Barnes’ brother, who did almost all of their cover art and had an excellent website full of other stuff before he took it down. I didn’t know that at the time or I would have had a bit of a fawn. Anecdote over.
Several hours later I show up to the actual gig, skillfully avoiding having to see Planet Parade. There’s a guy shouting at the bouncers after being kicked out already, within the first song. Good work MCD.
The first thing to notice about this gig relative to past of Montreal gigs is that it’s all a live band now. Where once there was a murkily-mixed backing track of programmed bass and drums, there are now talented musicians. The members who’ve been around forever have obviously had the Elephant 6 ramshackle shaken out of them at some point since the last tour. The most obvious new member is , K Ishibashi who plays violin, guitar, keyboards and bass, if I recall correctly, and also does a wicked impression of Kevin Barnes’ falsetto that leaves The Late BP Helium free stage-left to do the harmonies in a range he’s more comfortable with while he vogues and plays a double-neck guitar.
It’s strange seeing of Montreal now. Hissing Fauna was Hissing Fauna (and – get this, oM fans who are as lax in their study as I seem to be – Barnes pronounces it Fowna). The subsequent albums are, by every scientific standard, less good. But Skeletal Lamping rewarded patience, even if the urge to perform some sonic surgery to remove the ‘I’m a motherfucking headliner’ bit from the otherwise lovely Wicked Wisdom is strong as ever. And False Priest, dripped as it is in the affected falsetto sex squeal thing and confused as it might sound, is just as intriguing once you realise what it is that he’s actually saying.
They’re a better band now than they’ve ever been before, to see live. And, without the Jon Brion post-production, False Priest stuff sits incredibly well alongside the Sunlandic Twins/Hissing Fauna/Skeletal Lamping stuff. Our Riotous Defects touches Comedy Barnes, unseen for the most part since before Nina, weird sex squeal Barnes, and, on Janelle Monae’s part that he sings himself in her absence, abstract, transcendent Barnes. And Coquet Coquette could’ve sat in after She’s A Rejecter fairly comfortably, three years ago.
There was also plenty of Hissing Fauna, which is great news even to the hardiest of devotees. The live band means they can do an accelerating intro to Gronlandic Edit that drops a bomb when it actually kicks in. Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse, being the ‘hit’ in these parts as far as I can discern, goes down predictably well too. It’s weird, though. Barnes is a different person on stage, or at least a different character, than he was when he was doing this stuff the first time round. It’s post-Georgie Fruit Kevin Barnes that sings everything now, no guitar in hand, pretty much frolicking around the stage with his admittedly improved but also slightly less revelatory singing voice. That’s fine, and lots of fun. But worth noting.
And so David Barnes used the arms and the blood and the silver gorilla masks. Anthropomorphic animals in lycra battled on stage, they begged for Kevin’s blessing, they lifted him up, they faked fighting him, they played hype man for the encore and they exploded streamers and confetti from their wrists like weird abstract Spidermen. It’s a reverie, no doubt.
The encore? There’s almost always a cover. If you weren’t hep to that, check out You Ain’t No Picasso’s archive of oM’s covers. There are lots, and those are only the ones that got catalogued. They’re usually tributes to someone you can hear in their music – David Bowie features heavily, say, and so do the various 60s bands you see on the cover of Mojo, and Prince. Fittingly for Nu-Kevin, the encore in the Academy was…
Thriller! An exclamation mark there – one in every 10,000 words is apparently the guideline, so it’s probably time – to acknowledge how surprised the crowd was when the massive synth chords hit for the first time. And then two more Michael Jackson songs medley’d into it before going back to those Thriller chords to end. It’s not The Past Is A Grotesque Animal, but it was fun as hell.