Of Montreal showcases the power of spectacle at Sinclair concert

By Jackson Bailey, Staff Writer, Living Arts

The Sinclair in Cambridge was given quite the trippy show when Of Montreal and its frontperson Kevin Barnes stopped by last Saturday. 

The band, originally from Athens, GA, started mixing indie and psychedelic pop in 1996, with Barnes’ almost-futuristic, sometimes Bowie-esque vocals serving as a mainstay for a band that is always on the cutting edge of weird.

The group’s newest album “Freewave Lucifer F>ck F>ck F>ck” combines all things messy and interesting into one. Songs such as “Marijuana’s a Working Woman” and “Ofrenda-Flanger-Ego-à Gogo” serve more as techno-poetry, with the lyrics of the latter touching on painter Edward Hooper and fake orgasms. 

Perhaps the best — or most coherent, this music is odd — song is the penultimate track, “Nightsift.” Barnes and company ease into a rhythm for a bit, embracing a sound that might be found in a club. To get a sense of Of Montreal’s lyrical style, here’s a taste off of “Nightsift”:

“Put me on a pedestal, I’m wasted / You can be so creative with refuse/ Only fame can make someone a has-been / She sleeps with her fans ’cause they are faceless / Oh, knowing someone’s name makes it feel sleazy / Being seen is actual self-mutilation.”

But, back to the concert. I arrived at the Sinclair expecting something I hadn’t seen before. Given that “Freewave Lucifer F>ck F>ck F>ck” is Of Montreal’s 18th album, I expected that I’d be one of the few 20-somethings in a sea of millennials. That didn’t turn out to be the case. 

Instead, Of Montreal brought out folks of all ages. I stood between a group of Boston University students on my left and a middle-aged English woman on my right. As the BU kids complained about getting their fake IDs taken, I scanned the crowd to find that there wasn’t one prominent age group at all. 

When the lights began to dim, the audience was greeted by the band, sans Barnes. Instead, a featured dancer adorned in a red mask opened the show via speech. As the masked man spoke, the music picked up, turning his speech to a fiery sermon. By the time Barnes came out, the audience was absolutely in tune with the weirdness, completely engrossed by the mixing of wigs, makeup, and performance that made up this spectacle.

Breaks gave the stage to certain performance art. Performers would come out between old hits such as “It’s Different for Girls” or “The Party’s Crashing Us Now” in intricate costumes, sporting masks ranging in style from “Squid Game”-esque to animalistic. 

At one point, performers emerged from the wings as a sparkly dragon, and as angels anointed with bright LEDs lining large, white wings in another. The show was delightfully unpredictable — much like Of Montreal’s music.

As an artist, you don’t know what you’re going to be inspired to do,” said Barnes in an interview with American Songwriter. “I like to think of the Salvador Dali quote, ‘Every morning when I wake up, I ask myself what wonderful things am I going to accomplish today?’ While I don’t think I have his level of confidence, I do think that’s something every artist should shoot for.”

Barnes’ confidence is absolutely apparent onstage. Throughout the night they rarely stopped moving. Barnes was integral in movement pieces, dance breaks, and audience stunts. 

Barnes, who identifies as nonbinary, used dance in many ways to blend the notions of ageless and genderless performance. At times they skipped and hopped around in almost childlike fashion. By the end of the concert, I couldn’t tell if Barnes was 25 or 55. The dancers and Barnes all utilized masks, implementing unique sights and characters every few minutes, further muddying the audience’s expectations. 

Of Montreal satisfies the need for spectacle and ingenuity in performance. When I’d left the concert, I felt like I’d been given a glimpse into a world of entertainment much weirder and more interesting than anything I’d seen recently. Though they are wrapping up the tour of their 18th album, Of Montreal pushes the envelope, inviting us all to take a dip into the bizarre.