Of Montreal: Electrowerkz, London – live reviewWillow Colios went to check out a (very) rare acoustic performance from Of Montreal, or more precisely said band’s principal songwriter Kevin Barnes and singer Rebecca Cash.

Tonight’s Of Montreal show, their first in London since April 2012, is in front of a sell out crowd packed into Electrowerkz, a venue and arty looking space hidden round the back of Angel tube station.

They are partly showcasing material from forthcoming LP Lousy With Sylvianbriar but tonight also serves as a reminder of the sheer beauty of  Of Montreal’s older songs, shorn of all the electronic adornment that’s so familiar on record. (Apart from some great vocal renditions of previously synthetic bleeps)

There’s a self assured rendition of She’s a Rejecter which works almost unexpectedly well on acoustic guitar but it’s partly because the vocals are so powerful, with Barnes’ impressive range and tone carrying the melodies. And of course the audience of mostly devotees lap it up.

They are patient and reverent when listening to the new ones too with There’s Raindrop in My Skull meeting hushed silence til the final chord has rung out. But it’s not a tame and dry affair with plenty of jokes betwen band and crowd.

The new songs, vibrant with the longing and sadness that Kevin Barnes’s creations so often emit, sound just right in a stripped down format with just a guitar and male and female vocals. On “She ain’t Speakin’ Now’ he recalls tending to his sick and feverish wife and child with Dylanesque chord poetry and lyrical flourishes such as:”Your halucination ravings, I’m writing them all down, so you can read them when your mind no longer aches and your febrility breaks.”

Obsidian Currents billed (apparently by Kevin’s brother) as a song that a superhero has sung to him by his nemesis when held captive in a basement. He’s kicked the super-hero’s ass and now he’s singing the song just to rub it in. It’s got a dark yet warm feel to it with a T-Rex vocal and more incredible harmonies.

“This might be terrible” says Kevin introducing Gronlandic Edit. It’s certainly a bit different without drum machines, synth sounds and bass, but the brilliantly constructed song shines through and both singers are adept and at playing with every element of the rich melody and harmonies. And this gets to the crux of the matter. No one really writes songs this well and so consistently. Across some 16+ albums Of Montreal have put together chordal and melodic structures that recall The Beatles at their finest, The Zombies and even David Bowie. And tonight, taken apart without any gloss or extra textures you can see their timeless qualities that are up there with those great songwriters.

This is probably the only super long acoustic show I’ve ever done, says Kevin before an encore of Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse from Hissing Fauna, Are you The Destroyer. In fact, alongside the forthcoming LP, this set has been skewed towards that record more than any older ones from the Of Montreal oeuvre. And that’s despite there being some pure acoustic tracks of real beauty on some of the earlier records. Perhaps the rapturous response this evening will encourage more acoustic performances in future with the likes of originally acoustic songs such as Girl From NYC and City Bird being dragged up from the vaults.

Don’t misunderstand me, I do love Of Montreal all in all their dynamic manic-BPM disco fury but tonight’s gig is quite a revelation and I for one would welcome more raw performances like this on the side with emotions laid bare in these sparse arrangements.

New Of Montreal LP Lousy with Sylvianbriar is available from all good record store.

You can keep up with the band on Facebook and / or on their official website.

All words by Willow Colios. More writing by Willow on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. You can follow Willow on Twitter @ShootTheSinger.

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