By Jose D. Duran
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Imagine upside-down polka-dot monsters, naked pig people, and men in bras dancing amid massive rainbow bursts and confetti explosions. Now add a soundtrack of infectious, uplifting, and thought-provoking indie pop that challenges what everyday life has taught you to expect from reality.
If you can paint (and score) that fantastical moving picture in your mind, you will have a pretty good idea of the topsy-turvy psychedelic tripout that Of Montreal will deliver when it returns to the Magic City this week.
"We definitely love what we do," says the band's lead singer and musical mastermind, Kevin Barnes. "It's great to have a sort of communal experience with other humans on that level and be a part of something like Of Montreal."
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Barnes and an ever-changing lineup of fantasists have been producing and touring Of Montreal's music since 1996. They've released 11 albums, though the live show concentrates on music from 2007 and later. That was the moment, in Barnes' opinion, when he and his outfit came into themselves — musically, stylistically, and, as far as live production, financially.
"We always had desired to have some sort of production, but we never really had the budget to do it," he explains. "Early on, we did what we could. But everything is DIY and self-funded. Sometimes we have a bigger budget than other times, and that kind of determines what level of production we'll have for each tour. So it's always different."
Whatever the production budget, though, an Of Montreal performance is always a wildly and wonderfully theatrical experience. Head-spinning costume changes, surrealistic props, swords, ladders, whimsical choreography, lights and colors, and lots of lovely surprises combine for quite a complex pastiche.
"We do buy some stuff, but we usually do something to doctor them and make them special, make them fit our aesthetic," Barnes says. "There are a lot of things that we just make from scratch, or we commission someone whose art we like to make things for us as well.
"I've had a lot of outfits made for me and different things like that. It's cool to sort of expand our circle in a way and incorporate other people's talents."
Nevertheless, Barnes remains the ringmaster of it all — even when the pale 38-year-old assumes the identity of his alter ego, Georgie Fruit, a 40-something black man with a gender-bending glam-rock past.
"I have the sense it just sort of happened organically," he laughs, remembering the circumstances of Mr. Fruit's creation. "It wasn't really something I decided I needed as a device to get more into the music or whatever. It just sort of happened. And with the character name and backstory and stuff, it became more interesting for me.
"But it's not really something I ever think too much about anymore. I never ask myself: Am I Georgie Fruit right now, or am I Kevin Barnes?"