Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tricks And Treats - Janelle Monae and Of Montreal at the Hollywood Palladium, October 30, 2010

Costumed revelers were in abundance at the Janelle Monae/Of Montreal double bill at the Hollywood Palladium on October 30th, 2010,  but by my estimate, only about half of those Halloween celebrants were in the audience. 

The rest were to be found on stage.

Combining efforts to thrill an enthusiastic crowd with two very different takes on rock 'n roll as theatre, Monae and Of Montreal employed all manner of props, costumes, and multimedia technology to offer something that proved to be much more than just your run of the mill concert.

Monea went on first around 9:15, opening with a video introduction of just her face, framed much as in her Cold War video, explaining the backstory behind her Cindy Mayweather ArchAndroid saga, and ending with an exhortation to dance or die!

And with that her crack three piece keyboards/drums/guitar band, playing to track, broke into Dance or Die while three robed, hooded figures began dancing center stage, all with their backs turned towards the audience.  We knew Janelle was one of the three, but it was impossible to tell who. 

Finally, two verses in, Janelle turned toward the audience, and threw off her robe to reveal herself dressed in her trademark tuxedo-like white shirt and black slacks.

Oh, and that crazy hair-do, which looks even crazier and more prominent live.

As on ArchAndroid, Faster and Locked Inside followed, and then all but Janelle and her guitarist left for a lengthy but impressive rendition of Charlie Chaplin's Smile.

Janelle Monae performs Charlie Chaplin's Smile midway through her amazing opening set.
Kevin Barnes then joined Janelle for a decent version of ArchAndroid's worst track, the Barne's penned Make The Bus, which was quickly followed by an okay run on Wondaland.

Up to this point the show had been fast and energetic, and the band sounded great, but it hadn't yet reached transcendent heights. 

That all changed with the final three numbers.

First, roadies brought out an easel, and Janelle, brush in hand, began painting a picture of either a rose or a woman's backside (or maybe both) while delivering a trippy, spellbinding version of Mushroom and Roses.  After that, Cold War and Tightrope followed, hitting like a heavyweight boxer's best one-two combo. A dynamite close to what might have been the best warm up set I've seen in my lifetime, right down to it's final seconds, in which Janelle darted hysterically around stage avoiding a roadie trying to cover her in a James Brown cloak.

Here's a youtube clip of the Cold War/Tightrope ending.

Of Montreal's set that followed was a shaggier, looser, but even more theatrical affair. 

Sporting a large, multi-gendered, multi-racial, heavily sideburned band dressed in white, militaristic uniforms, as well as four or five dancers/puppeteers who were constantly entering and leaving stage in all manner of imaginative, surrealistic costumes, the entire set had a distinct Rocky Horror Picture Show vibe which seemed perfectly appropriate for the night before Halloween.

Fish-headed creatures accompany Of Montreal during show opener Coquet Coquette!

Barnes himself was a whirling dervish throughout the near two hour set, and the band also played with great energy, but that didn't always offset a pretty poor sound mix from where I was standing.   

As a result, the strongest impact was made not by the strongest songs, but by the most elaborate set pieces.

The first of two major highlights for me was Girl Named Hello from recent release False Priest.  The band locked into a repetitive groove half way through the song and jumped into a long theatrical set piece in which Barnes made out with a female dancer wearing a pig mask, while in the background another dancer dressed as a butcher ate fork-ripped morsels from a second pig-headed dancer laid prone on a surgical table...bizarre doesn't begin to describe it.  A good friend I was with found it all too indulgent, but for me it was all very, well...memorable.

Here's a youtube clip of it and preceding track Sex Karma...some naughty moments, so parents, might not want to watch around the kids.

She's A Rejector was the night's other highlight, a purely musical one this time. Taking that song's closing guitar lick, the band built on and extended it, built and extended until they reached a massive cathartic crescendo. I felt it was the best moment of the night for either act.

Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes is caged by bizarre, wood-headed beings.

But the night's biggest surprise came with the encore.

For months on this latest tour, Of Montreal has been closing with a medley of Michael Jackson covers, but tonight, they broke out the greatest song in their arsenal, Hissing Fauna's eleven minute centerpiece The Past Is A Grotesque Animal.

It's one of the decade's truly great songs, a song I still rank as the top track of 2007, but also a song the band rarely plays live. 

Unfortunately on this night, it was only a good, not great, rendition - the muddy sound that had hindered the band on numerous numbers really got in the way here, and the band members weren't quite able to capture the feel of those phenomenal, idiosyncratic, Sympathy For The Devil-styled backing vocals that Barnes overdubbed himself on the album.

So a minor letdown at the end, but despite this, the night in full was still a tremendous experience...rock n' roll as I've never quite seen it before.  If you're a fan of wildly adventurous hip/hop and soul and/or flamboyant, Prince-like disco-funk, I highly encourage you to check this fantastic double bill out.

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