The Zoo, Brisbane
4 March 2009
It’s just before the encore that things start getting really weird: Two guys in animal masks start playing — Mr Fish is on drums while Mr Lion roars into the microphone, garnering the requisite response from the crowd necessary in encore type situations — leading me to glance around at my fellow concert-goers and telepathically communicate “I’m okay with strange… but this is messed up.” During the past hour The Zoo stage had already witnessed male entertainers perform cartwheels, balance on each others shoulders, and mock fight each other while wearing various masks and costumes including the devil, a priest and a ninja. The main guy, six feet tall and full of muscle, posed several times in various positions, once in a snug green dress, wig and make-up while eating apples and throwing glitter onto the audience. A homoerotic Statue of Liberty perhaps? We’re not entirely sure, yet throughout the shenanigans Kevin Barnes led the musical element of of Montreal on, less pied piper or ring master, more bemused bystander, but one with a knowing grin.
It all started normally enough, normal being a relative term of course. Barnes strode onto the stage in a fetching blue and green dress, with garish lipstick and eye shadow, handbag, necklaces and guitar before the breakbeat drum loop and funky bass riff signaled the start of “We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling”. This segued into the Stuart Murdoch goes electro-pop moment “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider” from 2007’s breakthrough Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? That album informed most of the set although last year’s dense, stylistically schizophrenic Skeletal Lamping naturally got a decent airing, be it via The Stones/Velvets shuffle of “I’ve Seen a Bloody Shadow” or the trilogy of songs mid-set. These narrated Barnes’ alter-ego, the polymorphously perverse George Fruit’s, predilections in gory detail and as they lurched from one melody or bass line to another the soul-meets-indie tracks brimmed with memorable lines such as “He has some serious predatory domination issues” or “He’s the sort of guy who would leave you in a k-hole to go and play Halo in the other room” and “We can do it soft-core if you want, but you should I take it both ways”. While you could almost see the sleaze drip from the microphone stand it all seemed congruent with the whole ’70s vibe the band had going on.
But it was the harmony rich blend of disco, psychedelia and pop that made Hissing Fauna… and The Sunlandic Twins surprise alternative pop classics that had The Zoo crowd dancing into the groove. Finishing tri-umphantly with the disco bliss of “The Party’s Crashing Us” and the band’s best distillation of their trademark synth-pop and glam mix “Suffer for Fashion”, before …Twin’s restrained, piano centric “The Repudiated Immortals” finished the evening on a mellow note.
With a mixture of bemusement and satisfaction Webcuts left the venue wondering whether what we just witnessed was surreal pop or pantomime. The irony is that of Montreal don’t need all the window dressing — the outfits, the performance art, the cartoon projections — their songs hold up on their own but Barnes wants to have his cake and wear it too. Most of the time he succeeds but sometimes you wish he’d just go “Fuck art, let’s dance!”.