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Home / Articles / Entertainment / Music /  Music and theater
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Thursday, October 21,2010

Music and theater

Of Montreal and Janelle Monae fight the static image on stage

By David Accomazzo

At first glance, the Of Montreal/Janelle Monae tour seems to be somewhat of a odd pairing — the artsy Monae seems an unlikely counterpoint to indie glam-pop eccentrics Of Montreal — but they have more in common than first meets the eye.

Monae may have a record deal with Sean Combs’ Bad Boy Records, but her sound is far less easily categorized than anything the artist once known as Puff Daddy ever recorded. Easily recognizable thanks to her trademark beehive-meets-afro pouf and her snazzy black and white suits, the 24-year-old’s debut album, The ArchAndroid, effortlessly flutters from rhythm and blues to funk to punk rock to cinematic scores to rap — and back again.

Of Montreal, the brainchild of Kevin Barnes of Athens, Ga., shares Monae’s resistance to genre molds, having morphed from quirky indie-folk group to androgynous glam-pop over the course of a 13-year career. Barnes is almost as famous for his group’s whacky live performances (i.e. singing while on horseback or enlisting Susan Sarandon to spank a pig mask-wearing stagehand) as he is for his music. And in Monae — who’s rapidly gaining a reputation as a ferocious, can’t-miss live presence — he found a kindred spirit.

Monae tells Boulder Weekly she reached out to Barnes a few years ago after seeing some of his performances on the Internet, and the two hit it off.

“Everything Of Montreal represented was so similar to what we represented,” Monae says.

They became friends and started making music. “We realized we had a lot in common and started hanging out and collaborating together, so it kind of happened in this cool, organic way,” Barnes says.

One thing the two artists share is a penchant for performance. Monae’s dance moves are easily the freshest around; Barnes’ 19-person entourage involves everyone, including the tour manager and videographer, on stage. Barnes spoke with Boulder Weekly about music, performance and why going on after Janelle Monae can be “terrifying.”

Boulder Weekly: One thing that you guys are known for is your grand theatrical performances. What appeals to you about that?

Kevin Barnes: It keeps it interesting for the audience, as well as the performers. When you go on tour for as long as we do and play as many tours as we do, it can definitely become a little bit mundane if you know exactly what’s going to happen every single night and you’re just doing the same thing every night. It’s fun for us to have a lot of variety, all of these different elements going on visually.

And hopefully, it seems like people appreciate that as well. I know if I went to a show, even if I liked the songs a lot, I would get kind of bored after the seventh or eighth song. It would just be like eating the same flavor of ice cream — at some point, it has to lose its appeal, lose its power. So what we try to do is refresh people’s brains every couple songs, give them something different, some visual stimulation, so it doesn’t feel like it’s just one flavor, it’s the whole ... ice cream store.

BW: So you said it also helps keep you guys interested in the music?

KB: Well, not really musically speaking.

For me, because on this tour, I’m not actually playing instruments very often, I’m just singing, dancing and acting with the performance artists. It’s definitely an interesting experience for me, because we change things up a lot. We don’t just have one show that we do every single night; we don’t have just one set list that we do every single night. ... [The performance] is very much a work in progress.

BW: Do you see similarities between you and Janelle Monae, with what you do on the performance side?

KB: Yeah, definitely. We definitely have a strong appreciation for theatricality and fighting the static image. We want to have a lot of visual events that happen throughout the show. It sort of creates that cinematic experience for people. So we definitely have that in common. And she’s really inspiring for me, because she’s such an incredible performer — every single night, she’s just completely kicking out the jams — so, in a way, it’s kind of terrifying, because I don’t want to be upstaged by her, so I have to really put a lot of effort and energy into doing my thing, which is good because it kind of kicks me in the ass.

On the Bill

Of Montreal and Janelle Monae play the Ogden Theatre on Sunday, Oct. 24. Doors at 7 p.m. Must be 16 to enter. Tickets are $23 in advance, $25 day of show. 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-830-2525.

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