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Review Tue Nov 25 2014

Schubas Warmed Up with Kevin Barnes and Está Vivo

kevin barnes1.jpgThe first thing I think of when I hear Of Montreal is the rich imagination of Kevin Barnes. He has managed to create a dozen records filled with a surreal psychedelic pop that transport you increasingly magnificent locations. It was no surprise then when Barnes spoke and performed at Museum of Contempory Art Chicago for their David Bowie exhibit last Thursday. It's a combination that seems to have been made in heaven. Judging by his music and stage presence with Of Montreal, you can see the direct lineage from Bowie to Barnes. They both exude otherworldly attributes that enlighten and elevate you to their level. Even as Barnes was toned down from his exuberant theatrical Of Montreal persona, he was still able to invoke a powerful presence while performing a tender and intimate set for his astoundingly loyal fans for a sold out show at Schubas this past weekend.

Está Vivo began the night off with an lovely intimacy we would see carry on later. The group usually plays with a full band but was dwindled down to two, guitarist David Arias and the band's main component Ryan McMahon. The majority of Está Vivo's songs had a strident sense of tropical guitar sounds that worked well with McMahon's endlessly deep and conversational voice, which tends to be a punctuating highlight of his songs. "Juan Bobo" jaunts along with an infectious catchiness while "Drew Peterson, The Romantic" adds a surprisingly dark humor to the sunny guitars that only emphasizes the fun weirdness of the band. There was something strangely enjoyable about hearing McMahon softly sing "Wouldn't it be nice if you just died tonight?" during the latter song.

esta Vivo.jpgThe final two songs shifted in focus. "Sweet Tooth" was filled with a more raucous strumming of guitars than the songs that preceded it, making a jarring departure that had the song stand out above the rest. Their final song was filled with a beautiful droning quality that showed the range of Está Vivo. McMahon and Arias may have been down a few members but that didn't stop them from showing off their ability and putting on a very enjoyable set. They really left me wanting to see them with the whole band in tow.

Kevin Barnes came to stage with his acoustic guitar and a few pages in hand, bereft of his more eccentric garb in favor of small sport coat and scarf. He greeted Schubas with a sheepish "Hi" before reading a few things he hoped to be thankful for. His list include a myriad of desires from strong men with bruised vaginas, an outcry against elephant tusk poaching, and a scalding of chicken fat. It was exactly the kind of speech you would hope for from the Of Montreal frontman. Barnes commanded the stage with ease, setting his pages aside and began the show with "Coquet Coquet". It set the tone for the night quite well. This acoustic version was a softer and gentler song than on the record, like a warm hug from Barnes on that cold Chicago night.

The setlist spread out quite well through the farthest reaching ends of Barnes career. "Sleeping in the Beetles Bug" from the first Of Montreal album was a surreal treat and with Barnes songwriting that's always the case. There are always such dreamlike images in his songs that jump out and surprise you like the darker elements of "Colossus" and the bizarre lines in "Empyrean Abattoir, a song from the upcoming Of Montreal album. He also paid homage with two fantastic covers, Bowie's "Queen Bitch" and the Nina Simone "Either Way I Lose". He explained that he wouldn't try to imitate Simone, not that anyone could, but try to do his best. Barnes' humble demeanor was smile often snuck past his singing with the crowd, showing his appreciate and genuine surprise at the crowd unabashed enjoyment.

Barnes fans are more than just passionate and he could certainly tell as they belted out "Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider" so loudly that it came close to overtaking him. Nearly every song was sung in harmony with the audience, leading Barnes to remark how well they were all doing. Towards the end of his set he read some of his poetry, which he described to not be very good but rather an exercise in entertainment. His poem, "Did You Go Without Saying Goodbye?" was a twisting kaleidoscope of words, so verbose that one could not help but get lost in its ubiquitous scenery. At the end of the winding epic was Robocop in "She's a Rejector", repeating its chorus with a cheeky coyness to the laughter and joy of the crowd.

kevin barnes2.jpgWhen Barnes announced his final song he was met with burst in disappointed groans. "I knew you'd boo me eventually!" Barnes shouted before strumming the beginning of "Gronlandic Edit". The smooth and groovy song was like every song that night completely transformed with his acoustic guitar and his emotive singing. I didn't recognize the song, one of my favorites, until he uttered the first half of the opening line. Those few words were the only ones not accompanied by the crowd singing along. It was immediately with the second half of that line that Barnes and Schubas were in unison, serenading each other yet again. The verse "Physics makes us all its bitches!" was likely the loudest the crowd got, echoing the following oohs and ahhs with joyful passion.

Barnes stepped aside for a moment with nowhere to go and returned to center stage to tease the audience with a few more songs. He joked about heckling his friend Kishi Bashi, singing a little tune before asking the audience if they wanted to hear another Bowie song. Of course everyone began screaming out every Bowie track, to which Barnes exclaimed he wasn't a Bowie jukebox. He teased "Star" but played "Moonage Daydream" with his bright smile peeking out throughout the song. Barnes changed up lyrics and hummed through the long wordless sections, evoking Ronald Reagan and Iron Maiden respectively. He left Schubas with "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse", much too soon for anyone's pleasure. I'm sure everyone at Schubas would have preferred to hear him play through the night and past the morning into the next evening, but they surely couldn't deny the beauty of small show.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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