of Montreal / Love Is All
Roseland Ballroom; New York, NY

Oh, Kevin Barnes.

You’ve really stepped it up since I saw you on the Sunlandic Twins tour. Sure, then you were decked out in a wedding dress and asking the audience to marry you. Yes, you got nearly naked and twisted across the stage. But this time was just...

Well, for one, you sang from atop a white stallion during Skeletal Lamping’s “St. Exquisite’s Confessions.” I mean, what can I say to that?

That’s the only feat that might have PETA knocking at the door of your tour bus, but it was by no means the only over-the-top aspect of your performance at Roseland Ballroom. While you and your crew churned out the majority of Skeletal Lamping along with some choice cuts from the three previous LPs, a cast of nimble performers swarmed on and off the stage, swapping out costume after costume to transform themselves into cowboys, guerrillas, nuns, birds, giraffes, satyrs and other vague, indistinguishable creatures. You yourself played the priest, roller disco king, centaur, condemned man (who was actually hanged on stage), and shaving cream-covered corpse, to name a few.

Georgie Fruit, your burgeoning alter ego, was there, too, but it seems that, like the turn-on-a-dime sonic multiplicity that Skeletal Lamping embraces, Monsieur Fruit is less a concrete, knowable character than a chaotic pastiche of every fanciful notion that floats into your kaleidoscopic viewfinder. Fruit is you sporting a Technicolor sombrero, the teenage girls screaming when you stripped to your loincloth skivvies, the beaming-faced front-row fans that you smeared with shaving cream, and the hundreds of camera flashes that tried to capture the stream of rich, absurd images that you paraded forth.

I’m sure the fact that Roseland is just a few steps from Broadway theatre district was not lost on you. While your cascading stage show might have been out of place in the bare bones, DIY-minded enclaves of Brooklyn, everything seemed quite at home on the balcony-flanked ballroom soundstage. The showbiz people probably didn’t even look at you funny when you ordered up that pristine white equine.

My mind was beginning to wander towards the end of the nearly two-hour set, not because your music or performance was starting to bore me, but because you kept reminding me of so many different things, from the ’60s comedy hour “Laugh-In” and ridiculous Olivia-Newton John musical Xanadu to Bowie, Prince, Sparks, and Sly Stone.

But then, to kick off the encore, you did what seemed like the only thing left to be done: You brought up It-boy Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT and busted out a straight-up cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” As teenagers who could barely talk when that gritty anthem was released sang along, word for word, suddenly the peak spectacle of that white stallion was trampled by a stampede of raw communal energy.
The only downside was that this supreme moment of the night put a shadow on another fun cover: opening band Love Is All’s version of “Run (So Far Away)” by Flock of Seagulls. In fact, I felt roundly sorry for Love Is All, because those punchy Swedes laid down a fantastic opening set of new and old songs that could have blown the roof off of a smaller venue. But in the caverns of Roseland, your kingdom for the night, they just couldn’t compete.

I’m not criticizing you for that, Mr. Barnes. You made your wild vision a tangible and dazzling reality, and it was well worth it. People leaving your concerts will not quickly forget the experience. Few of us will probably ever see another show quite like this, and I don’t anticipate hearing such a spirited and fitting version of a Nirvana song again without the aid of a time machine. So, Mr. Barnes — or Georgie Fruit, if you’d like — thanks go out to you and your band. You really did the title of that instrumental track from The Sunlandic Twins justice: With you and of Montreal, “October Is Eternal.”

Setlist:

[Photo: Patrick Heagney]

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