Of Montreal, Deerhoof, & Yonatan Gat at Toad’s Place – New Haven, CT

Monday night’s intriguing lineup of Yonatan Gat, Deerhoof, and Of Montreal promised a diverse and intriguing mix of virtuosity, experimentalism, and theatricality. Like a sonic circus of sorts the audience first turned their attention to the center ring, or should I say formed a ring in the center of the venue encircling Gat and his two bandmates.

Lit only by individual lamps pointed in each performers general direction, the players moved between sharp illumination and deep shadow as they moved jaggedly to and fro with each note. For those unfamiliar with the ex-Monotonix guitarist’s work and in particular his live show, I can best characterize it as Klezmer meets the Sun City Girls meets Lightning Bolt. Since I am drawing ridiculous but somehow fitting comparisons, Gat’s guitar work draws from the sloppy stylings of Jimmy Page while cultivating the sounds of an Erkin Koray or Selda Bagcan. The performance itself was as sonically rich as it was visually sparse holding the audience captive within their circle of peers. Unfortunately, because rock and roll is all about keeping to a schedule the performance was marred by 15 minutes of the sound engineer waving his flashlight at Gat to inform him his time was up. Normally the crowd would not have to suffer through this obnoxious annoyance but because some of us, myself included, were facing the rear of the venue it was the focus for the final couple of songs. Gat caught sight of the flashlight and simply put his head down and played even harder, faster, and louder. I chuckled to myself wondering if Gat’s insolent refusal to lay the guitar down was punk rock or more so a cultural disconnect. Regardless, I’m glad he forged on with his frenetic strumming alongside the thunderous drumming and fluttering basslines.

Once the ring had dispersed it was on to the animal portion of the circus; Deerhoof was next. Having just returned from a lengthy European tour in support of their latest album La Isla Bonita one might have expected a tired and worn foursome. On the contrary, the “runners four” proved as lively and cohesive as ever, tearing through a set of new cuts and old favorites. Paradise Girls, Doom, Exit Only, and Last Fad were among the new tracks performed from La Isla Bonita while mixing in favorites like We Do Parties, The Perfect Me, and of course finishing up with an interactive participatory rendition of Come See the Duck. Not to be overlooked, drummer and inspirational speaker Greg Saunier took to the mic to provide some wordsmithing midway through the set. As any good humorist would do, Saunier shared some observational humor from the evening letting us know that he had just realized something distracting during the previous song. When seated behind his drum kit he was able to see himself perfectly within a mirror behind the bar at the back of the venue. When describing what he saw a voice from the crowd yelled “it was beautiful!” to which Saunier replied “I thought so too…thank you!”. Guitarist John Dietrich also joined in the storytelling, reminiscing about their last time playing at Toad’s Place while opening for the Fiery Furnaces in 2007. If any of you know your baseball history to the degree that many of us here at StGA do then you will be able to recount who won the World Series that year. Yep, the Boston Red Sox. In any event, Dietrich was recalling an epic solo by frontman Matthew Friedberger, or so Friedberger will always remember it. As it turned out a large portion of the crowd (being in Red Sox territory) had been watching a playoff game and just as Friedberger’s solo ended the Red Sox hit a home run, which of course was met with wild celebration and cheering. Friedberger was flush with surprise and appreciation for such a receptive and gracious crowd that night. No false cheers on this evening however, all in response to an excellent Deerhoof performance.

The stage was set for the final performance of the evening, and oh what a performance it was. Known for their theatrical live act led by the idiosyncratic ring master himself, Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal combined their music with elements of performance, puppetry, and absurdist theater. Of Montreal’s surrealist Bowie-esque extravaganza featured a variety of strange creatures including white winged humanoids, Spider Man Abraham Lincoln, big bare human breasted pink nippled white dogs, and of course a swirling array of representational and abstract video projections. At the center of it all dressed to the nines donning his/her iconic glittered blue eye shadow was Georgie Fruit; Barnes’ alter ego. I’m always impressed by singers who sound as good live as they do on the album and Barnes is no exception. His vocal presence was quite impressive, particularly considering all of the extra sensory input that he had to compete with.

Touring in support of Aureate Gloom released earlier this month by independent label Polyvinyl, Of Montreal played an ambitious 20+ song set lasting almost 2 hours including several costume and set changes. Barnes and company performed most of the tracks from their latest album and also included cuts stretching across many of their 12 previous albums. Highlights included The Past Is A Grotesque Animal, We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling, and Gronlandic Edit all from 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?. Other fan favorites included Rapture Rapes the Muses from 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic, Forecast Fascist Future from their 2005 release The Sunlandic Twins, and Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider (video below). Finally, the evening came to a close with an epic 10+ minute rendition of The Past Is A Grotesque Animal.

Having now finally seen them live, there is little question left in my mind as to why Of Montreal fans are so rabid. If you have yet to see them in concert, I highly recommend catching them. They continue their extensive 2015 tour throughout much of the US, west of the Mississippi, before heading to Europe in late April.

Of Montreal

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