Of Montreal Lands In Milwaukee
The group’s leader, Kevin Barnes, might be called twee, pretentious or emo, but Of Montreal can no longer be dismissed as minor.
Top Show: Of Montreal, Saturday, March 14, Turner Hall Ballroom
Among the alternative-music bands that took shelter under the “Elephant 6” umbrella in the 1990s, Of Montreal seemed almost deliberately minor, or downright silly, contrasted with the pop-rock bash of Apples in Stereo or the experimental-folk majesty of Neutral Milk Hotel.
Of Montreal has nevertheless issued a new album every year or two since 1997’s Cherry Peel, and while the group’s leader, Kevin Barnes, can be called many things—twee, pretentious, fey, emo—he can no longer be dismissed as minor.
He can still be pretty silly: Aureate Gloom, the brand-new Of Montreal LP, features songs with titles like “Monolithic Egress” and “Chthonian Dirge For Uruk the Other,” and his Facebook posts feature details about such things as his self-imposed “isolation experiment in San Francisco.”
Barnes also tends to remove all mystery regarding the real-life motivators behind each Of Montreal opus. For example, a move to Norway and a separation from his Norwegian wife catalyzed the dark turn of 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, and he’s cited what appears to be a permanent separation from that wife as the inspiration for Aureate Gloom.
If his sympathy-seeking revelations can be set aside, then the 10-song, 44-minute procession of the latest album is a satisfying mess of glam, punk and other 1970s rock ‘n’ roll identities and postures, and the frontman is a suitable conduit for Ziggy Stardust archness and Stooges swagger.
Onstage, Barnes can be looser, and not always in an advantageous way. His artiness helps him grasp roots rock or funk, among myriad other styles; his confusion pushes him to develop alter egos like “Georgie Fruit.” Nevertheless, Of Montreal wouldn’t have lasted this long without the risks Barnes is willing to take and the digressions his audience is willing to tolerate.
Wednesday, March 11: La Santa Cecilia at Shank Hall
Last year, La Santa Cecilia’s debut full-length, Treinta Días, won the Grammy for “Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album.” That does read as though Grammy officials piled subgenres into a catch-all category, but the L.A. group, named for the patron saint of musicians, fits all three classifications and a few others besides.
Shortly after picking up the trophy, LSC dropped its second full-length, Someday New, which ranges from a thoroughly traditional and passionate version of the Dominican perennial “La Morena” to a cover of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” that Carlos Santana ought to wish he had played first. Geographically and musically, the band dances across territorial lines.
Thursday, March 12: The Gaslight Anthem at Pabst Theater
Even if the Gaslight Anthem weren’t from New Jersey, it likely wouldn’t avoid comparisons to Bruce Springsteen, who must once have wished to banish comparisons between him and Bob Dylan. On the bright side, at least the comparisons have become more complimentary if not necessarily more diverse.
The Anthem has itself become more diverse on its fifth studio album, last year’s Get Hurt, with resonances drawn from New Wave, 1970s power pop and a few other sources shared with the Hold Steady. However, where the Hold Steady sneers at nearly every moment of belief, the Anthem sounds ready to shed its own blood for the songs.
Sunday, March 15: Alabama Shakes at Riverside Theater
Athens, Alabama is definitely not the musical locus that Athens, Georgia is, so Alabama Shakes might be said to be the smaller town’s R.E.M., B-52’s and Drive-By Truckers. Of those three bands, the four-piece band is closest to the DBTs, calling up old rock and soul demons and angels.
The popularity of other gritty, retro bands like the White Stripes and the Dap-Kings (behind Sharon Jones) does not entirely explain why Alabama Shakes can routinely sell out venues (as it has in this case). With Sound & Color, a definitive follow-up to 2012’s introductory LP Boys & Girls, set for release next month, it will have new material to juice a renowned live set and perhaps some proof that its success has not been a freak accident.
Sunday, March 15: Torche and Nothing at Cactus Club
Sludge, stoner, doom: these heavy-metal adjectives are unpromising until Torche plugs in and cranks up as if swinging Thor’s hammer. Yet for all the Miami band’s stomping and thrashing power, albums like 2012’s Harmonicraft and this year’s Restarter broadly hint, as Queens of the Stone Age sometimes has, that headbanging is supposed to be fun.
The second band on this bill, Nothing, boasts a moniker that probably every mopey teenager has scrawled and underlined during attempts at suicidal poetry. Yet Nothing displays a Sunny Day Real Estate-reminiscent melodic intensity that lifts the Philadelphia band’s 2014 debut album, Guilty of Everything, above both the downcast eyes of shoegaze and the troubled past of frontman Dominic Palermo. As shown here: