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Friday, August 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 58.0° F  Fog/Mist


In new Union South, flamboyant Of Montreal play Varsity Hall's inaugural show

Barnes wore lilac-colored, control-top tights, an orange and yellow striped skirt, a crocheted hat, a blue scarf and a royal purple blouse that quickly came unbuttoned.
Credit:Cailley Hammel
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Walking into Varsity Hall, in the newly opened Union South, was a little like stepping back in time. Between the stage centered toward the back of the vast space and the shined, narrow, wood-panel flooring, Varsity Hall resembles a high school gym -- the last place you might expect to see a sold-out Of Montreal concert.

When Kevin Barnes, lead singer of the Georgia-based indie-pop-rock group, stepped onto the stage, the audience focused on him. Or on his outfit. The ensemble, the first of two he would don throughout the evening, consisted of lilac-colored, control-top tights, an orange and yellow striped skirt, a crocheted hat, a blue scarf and a royal purple blouse that would quickly come unbuttoned. The outfit was just the first example of how, in some regards, an Of Montreal show is an exercise in style over substance.

As a video feed screened experimental film footage or rapidly shifting abstract shapes, Barnes and his bandmates were often accompanied by men in bodysuits engaging in their own show. Dressed as luchadores in straitjackets, blood oozing from mouths, or more abstractly in red bodysuits with masks of an eagle or a rooster, the players added an unexpected, frequently distracting dimension to the performance.

Style was also visibly important to the audience, with plenty of the young concertgoers taking cues from Barnes and dressing up for the occasion. Many decorated their faces with streaks of neon, as Barnes had, and some wore colorful tights -- though only a few were so bold as to wear control-top pantyhose as pants, à la Barnes. A couple dressed in full-blown costume, as did one patron in a Rainbow Brite ensemble.

Musically, Barnes impressed with his stamina, often seamlessly flowing from one song to the next. Opening with "Slave Translator," from their 2011 EP thecontrollersphere, the group quickly moved into the first single from the recent release False Priest, a lively version of "Coquet Coquette." It got the audience screaming along. Other highlights included a rendition of "My Funny Valentine" and "She's a Rejecter," which closed the show with a bang. Barnes had a commanding stage presence, whether he was acting coy with the microphone, stomping the stage or grabbing the nearest tambourine.

Openers Morning Teleportation, of Portland, Ore., were entrancing with their semi-dreamy, psychedelic rock. Local metal group Lords of the Trident also took the stage and tainted what would have otherwise been a decent vocal performance thanks to excessive use of props and laughable outfits.

When the encore finished and Of Montreal retreated backstage, the lights were raised to reveal Varsity Hall after its first use: covered in trash and confetti. A few intoxicated audience members dug for their coats as employees shooed them out the door.

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