To most alternatively-inclined music nerds, the mere mention of of Montreal brings to mind their infamously bizarre performances. I’ve heard an account of actors in pig suits being faux-slaughtered onstage and another of lead singer Kevin Barnes riding a horse. But despite the precedence of their onstage antics, of Montreal's music is the most attention-grabbing component of their live shows. The group puts a glammy-funk twist on their live renditions and tows along some great opening acts for the ride, as they did on Wednesday night at the Metro.
The first opener of the night, of Montreal touring band member-come-solo artist Kishi Bashi, set a high bar with his set. Kishi Bashi’s sole member is K. Ishibashi, a prolific violinist who has toured and recorded with the likes of Regina Spector and Alexi Murdoch, took the stage armed only with his violin, a loop pedal, a pair of microphones and an ambitious haircut to defend himself against the rabid crowd of of Montreal fans. He did so valiantly and gracefully to boot. Kishi Bashi’s live act relies on violin harmonies generated via the loop pedal, a tool he utilizes expertly. And while his live songs are quiet different from their studio counterparts, they possess a stark beauty all their own, unlike anything I've ever heard.
The parallels with Andrew Bird and Owen Pallett are obvious, but Kishi Bashi takes things a step further: In addition to looping his violin, he sang looped harmonies with himself, hummed to create a bassline and beat-boxed to create percussion. What’s more, he manipulated these loops with an flick of his foot, speeding them up into a Passion Pit-esque squeal on "It Began with a Burst" and the sigh-inducing closer "Manchester". His live performance gave me the impression of watching an artist paint: The audience sees the song come together piece by piece as the artist creates it. The crowd responded enthusiastically. I think Bashi stole the show, as much as any show can be stolen from of Montreal.
Loney Dear, however, did not fair as well as the second opening act. In their defense, they occupied a tenuous spot, put onstage after Kishi Bashi’s stunning set but before the highly anticipated headliner. It seemed like Loney Dear was just a little too quiet to hold the crowd’s attention, which is a shame because they produced some really lovely tunes. Loney Dear sounds like they look: singer-songwriter-guitarist Emil Svanangen resembles, in appearance and vocal timbre, a For Emma-era Justin Vernon, and he was accompanied on stage by a woman playing the part of Victoria Legrand on accordion. There are definitely also hints of Sigur Ros’ Jonsi in Svanangen’s voice.
Svanangen uses subtle looping and a twelve-string guitar to back his gentle falsetto. There’s a slight European lilt to his voice that gives it some uniqueness (he hails from Sweden), but the crowd, unfortunately, didn’t seem to notice: From the moment Kishi Bashi left the stage until of Montreal took it, there was a wall of chatter from the crowd over which Svanangen could barely peek. He did manage to get the crowd behind him at one point, asking the audience to hold a note with their voices; he then raised and lowered its volume with hand gestures throughout the song "D Major". But that beautiful moment of unity passed, to the point that most of the crowd missed the dramatic climax, “My Heart”.
By the time of Montreal took the stage, the crowd was so restless that it degraded quickly into a sweaty weed-perfumed mosh pit, and of Montreal’s music was surprisingly conducive to this. Frontman Kevin Barnes, rocking a Ghirahim haircut and a frilly pink blouse, jumped between instruments, never far from a microphone. Backed by a band of five that included Kishi Bashi on violin and guitar, Dottie Alexander on keys and a heavily-mustachioed Bryan Poole on guitar, Barnes led the crowd in a psychedelic sing-along against a projected backdrop of neon fractals and mutant baby monsters.
While the show had its quirky moments (namely, appearances by balloon ninjas, masked wrestler priests and some sort of moth-angel), it was not as bizarre nor as theatrical as the survivors of previous shows had warned me it would be. That said, the band "brought it," as Bruce might say, blasting through bass- and distortion-heavy renditions of fan favorites, like “Famine Affair” and “She’s a Rejecter.”
The show climaxed in an encore that made up for any weirdness-deficits in earlier parts of the show. Pig-men, gargoyle strippers and what appeared to be a wedding dress sprouting sea turtle flippers all graced in the stage in the final two songs. But at that point in the show, the oddities seemed like overcompensation, an afterthought to meet the crowd’s expectations. I don’t think anyone would have minded (or even noticed) if the band’s encore had merely been simply three more well-performed songs. of Montreal ultimately proved that they could slay a show without overdosing on weird. The band’s songs carried the performance, not their masked and caped stage hands.