Of Montreal has been around since the 90s, but I only knew a few of their songs before I went to their concert in August.
It was late summer, the living was easy, and the show was part of Flying Dog Brewery’s Summer Sessions, an annual outdoor concert series in Frederick, Maryland. Live music, craft beers, food trucks—all the hippest of hips.
For the past couple of months, of Montreal has been on a U.S. tour supporting their latest album Aureate Gloom. The Frederick show was closing out Flying Dog’s Summer Sessions 2015. The band had previously appeared at Summer Sessions 2013, which was the year that Flying Dog started the series.
Justin Tarnow, 34, a brewery and cellar technician with Flying Dog Brewery, shared that Summer Sessions is meant to “show the public that [Flying Dog] is more than a bunch of brewers” and that they want to support the arts and music culture around their beer.
The audience reflected this artistic culture with its orange lightning bolt earrings, tattoos of trees, burgundy pants, Marvel superhero T-shirts, purple hair.
One of the opening bands was Mothers, a band from of Montreal’s own Athens, Georgia. Mothers opened for five shows on the Aureate Gloom tour. Ethereal vocals, lush guitars, and a compelling emotional aura created anticipation for the release of their first full length album in 2016.
Although I expected most of the audience to be of Montreal fans, some were there for other reasons. Amanda Keddrell, 24, of Millersville, knew the band but didn’t know their music. She was at the show to support local businesses like Flying Dog.
Keddrell’s friend, Sarah Tarnow, 26, of Frederick (who is married to Justin Tarnow) went to the previous of Montreal concert at Flying Dog. At the time, she had only heard their songs on Spotify, but she was won over by their theatrical performance.
“They’re not your typical band.”
Jillian DeShazer, 44, of Frederick, had also never listened to of Montreal, but she described herself as a “fan of Flying Dog and a fan of local events.” She praised Flying Dog’s tasting tour, as well as how local events bring people of all ages together.
“It’s an opportunity to see live music…not a lot of that anymore. It’s an opportunity to be social in a nice venue with food, to meet a bunch of new people.”
Nick Hope, 27, and Hannah Shiflett, 23, arrived with friends from Baltimore. Dressed in black lacy outfits, they sparkled with glittery stickers and make-up. “[We] decided to get dolled up,” said Hope who had never been to an of Montreal concert but had been a fan as a teenager.
According to Hope, of Montreal’s music is “pop with a certain raw edge” that “inspired a lot of us [as teens].”
“It was very positive music at a time when you hear a lot of dark stuff.”
Shiflett had been at the of Montreal Flying Dog concert in 2013, and was impressed by the theatrical “colors and costumes,” comparing them to The Flaming Lips.
“A lot more people dress up at the bigger concerts. [I] wanted to look like them this year.”
As the of Montreal show got started, the theatrical element was personified by a masked announcer who wore a cape, top hat, and gloves. He introduced the band under a sky that had turned a dusky blue.
“You got out of the safety of your homes, came outside into this beautiful blue pleasure dome,” he told the audience. “Tonight, we crack the blue pleasure dome.”
Kevin Barnes—of Montreal’s front person, guitarist/ songwriter— walked onstage wearing an outfit accented in red: a scarf, smock blouse with grayish feather designs, tights, and an apron. He joined band mates Jojo Glidewell (keyboards), Bob Parins (bass), and Clayton Rychlik (drums).
Throughout the night, costumed dancers in masks and body suits performed alongside the band. Crying babies in pajamas, Beetlejuice-esque creatures with snapping jaws, faceless angels, poodles doing a striptease—all these costumes created a Burton/ Lynch mash-up, an eccentric playfulness. The otherworldly visual effects on the video screen behind the band mirrored the surrealism of the music.
Despite the competing artistic elements in the performance, the lyrics also created their own presence—poetic in “Requiem For O.M.M.2” (“I don’t need a photograph because you never left my mind”) to introspective in “Gronlandic Edit” (“Daylight, I’m so absent minded, nighttime meeting new anxieties. So am I erasing myself? Hope I’m not erasing myself”).
It’s an odd experience to be surrounded by people who are passionately singing words to songs you don’t know, to witness their gospel.
During the second half of the show, the connection to the music became visceral. Gone was the slow sway of shoulders. By the end of the concert, they jumped in time to the music.
As I watched them, it occurred to me:
1. That looks exhausting.
2. Is this music only meant for those who are young?
As Nick Hope had shared, of Montreal was the music of adolescence.
But what if you missed out on a band or artist in your adolescence? What if the music is from a younger generation? Is that reason enough not to listen?
Music that takes risks—it may seem like a realm for either pop culture critics or younger people because they’re the ones with the time and energy and openness to listen to interesting music.
Yet, what happens when we stop listening to music that takes risks?
We may stop taking other risks like creating art and music of our own or moving in different directions with other aspects of our lives.
Lately, I’ve been listening to Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Yes, it took nine years for me to find this album. It took me twenty years to find of Montreal. I’m probably not going to start shouting “I love you’s” to Kevin Barnes. I’m way past adolescence. But I’m interested in exploring this music.
Yes, there may be a realm that tells us that interesting music is only for pop culture critics and the very young. We don’t have to stay in that realm. We can keep listening for something new.