I went to see the band Of Montreal play at the Broadberry last week, and to say that it differed from my expectations would be a huge understatement. First of all, when I saw two prices online, one for advance tickets and one for day of show, I assumed that meant that it would be fine to show up and buy tickets at the door. But when I got there with two friends, just after of Montreal had started playing, the show was already sold out. However, the bouncer took pity on us (either that, or he saw an opportunity to make some extra cash) and let us in in exchange for the ticket money.
I hadn’t been to the Broadberry before, and I figured that it would be pretty low-ley, just a bar that happened to have live music. But once I got into the venue, I could see that the band was definitely the focus. The stage was all the way at the end of the building, which was rather skinny, and the entire area between the bar and the stage was completely packed with people, all there to hear of Montreal play. Still, I was thinking that there couldn’t possibly be much to write about for a concert – it would just be a typical set, with a pretty packed and excited crowd. But it ended up being one of the most bizarre concert experiences I’ve ever had.
When we worked our way up through the packed crowd closer to the band, I could see that there was a dynamic light show projected on the wall behind the band. Actually, the projection took up even more space than just the wall – the band, the speakers, the light fixtures, and even the hands of some audience members up above their heads were mottled with colored light. Some of the moving images were abstract shapes; other times it was video, often overlaid with other images. They were all overly saturated, which combined with the confusing images to create a psychedelic effect.
During every song, different characters would come out onstage to dance and move in odd ways around the musicians. Some of them wore all white, along with white masks, so that the projected images could be clearly seen moving across their forms. One of these held long sticks with a long swath of white fabric attached, so that when they spread their arms they had a 10-foot wingspan, and the moving colors of the background could be seen on their “wings” as well. In another instance, a figure came out with large arms and legs attached to them and a huge circle where the head should be, and the lighting designer actually projected the image of a strange totemic creature’s face onto the circle, so that the figure looked like a large bizarre four-legged creature.
Other times, instead of white-dressed figures, the background figures came out in costume and danced or acted out scenes behind the musicians (although no matter what they were dressed in, they always wore some kind of mask). At one point two figures came out wearing American flag-patterned body suits, dog masks, and boxing gloves and pretended to get in a boxing match, which was broken up by someone wearing an Abraham Lincoln mask and a Flash costume. This was followed by the two dog-headed figures partially stripping, revealing a second body suit underneath that was pink-colored and had a set of very large, very false breasts attached, and the three characters held hands and swayed as the song came to an end.
Overall, the show felt just as much like a performance piece as it did a concert in the usual understanding of the word. A lot of it left me feeling confused – I didn’t know what these strange characters were trying to express, if anything, or if all the costume elements were just arbitrary pieces that someone had found and decided it would be funny to combine. But even as I was wondering that, I didn’t really care – I was enjoying it, whether it had a deeper meaning or not. And it seemed to me that the rest of the audience felt the same way – they would cheer whenever a new character came out onstage, and the people in the front would reach up their hands for the characters to touch. There were even some moments where the audience’s involvement felt almost cultish. During one keyboard solo, the background characters gathered around the musician playing and started waving their hands back and forth toward him in a motion almost like bowing. The audience members caught on quickly and began mimicking the motion, so that for the rest of the solo there was a mass waving movement that looked almost like everyone was repeatedly bowing to the keyboard player. To an outsider like me, someone who casually liked the band but wasn’t a die-hard fan, it was odd and a little bit eerie to see the group mentality take over in that way. But there were other moments where I felt a part of the group, in a very comforting and exciting way. The singer’s occasional offhand comments to the audience, or the way that he would smile when the audience sang along or started cheering, made it very clear that he was happy to be there performing. This created camaraderie between the singer and the audience, and contributed to the feeling of connection among the audience members and the band.
I can honestly say that I had never been to a show like this before in my life, but I had a fantastic time. The visual media that they blended with their music made it a full sensory experience, adding social or political meaning or simply entertainment value to every song. There was a community created within the venue that everyone present was a part of, connecting through their engagement in the music.