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MGMT / Grand Buffet / Of Montreal at Great American

 
The first thing my friend and I noticed when we entered the Great American Music Hall was the two-tier, lighted set that had been built on the venue's standard stage. "It looks straight out of RENT," I told him, "really Broadway." Turns out it couldn't have been a more accurate prognostication; with three shows in San Francisco, Of Montreal could afford the extravagance. They're noted for a grandiose and whimsical live act, and it's apparent they've got a soft spot in their collective heart for the city of San Francisco, so you could definitely feel the psychedelic rainbow vibes of love radiating throughout the venue (note: tongue only partially in cheek here).

But before we get into the main event, let's not gloss over the more-than-worthy opening bands: MGMT and Grand Buffet. I came in under MGMT's guest list, primed to see them live after their CD showed up in our slush pile and subsequently took a cozy seat in the office stereo (and our mp3 players, and our computers, and the backs of our minds for hours in a row . . . ). Here's a group who pretty much channels Bowie's discography (with a tint of Flaming Lips in the ever-spacey, filtered vocals) over the course of their debut CD, Oracular Spectacular, but does so keenly and unapologetically. My only minor criticism — that their pursuit of variety seemed to compartmentalize the album slightly — dissolved within the first few songs of their set. Simply, things meshed. MGMT's music evolved from segmented bits of magic into a smooth, enveloping wash of sound. But it was the clever and immediate lyricism that provided the best moment of their set: when they delivered the line, "this is a call to arms to live and love and sleep together," the Of Montreal faithful milling around the bar couldn't help but perk up and take a few steps toward the stage with interest. They were like magnets struck by the shrapnel of sexually promiscuous lyrics.

After MGMT wound down, Grand Buffet stepped onstage and rapped about, I don't know, cream cheese or some shit. Wait, wait — I don't mean to trivialize the supreme performance these two dudes delivered — actually, I kept leaning over to my friend and saying something like "this is awesome!" at least once a song. But if you aren't familiar with Grand Buffet's shtick, it's basically a tall redhead guy and another stout guy with a ponytail, rapping over homemade beats about Ben Franklin and dungeon mastery and yeah, "cream cheese money" (their opening song), or whatever else they want. It's as if those kids you never talked to in high school formed a semi-parody rap group, but instead of getting over the novelty they stuck with it and got sort of famous somehow. The reason it works, of course, is they don't take themselves too seriously — their sense of humor is a welcome reprieve from the posturing seriousness of most hip hop artists, mainstream and underground alike.

But there's no question who the headliner was; Of Montreal is a habitual spotlight stealer. Sure, there are better artists — artists who are more complex, more lyrically poignant, more original, more (fill in the blank) — but when it comes to putting on a full-blown spectacle, no one beats Kevin Barnes and crew. They're so much damn fun, and if you've ever seen them live, you're keen to their theatrical tendencies; you know about the actors who don various costumes and perform miniature scenes while the band is playing. If you've never seen them, here's a bit of what you missed: an onstage swordfight, a game of catch with a Nerf football, suited ninjas popping glitter-filled balloons over the top of the crowd, and the soundman wandering onstage in a lion's mask to encourage their encore. Some bands who run a video feed behind them to complement their set; Of Montreal just takes the whole visual thing a step further. All this among flashy, gender-ambiguous costumes and a wicked light show built into the panels of the two-story set. When the whole thing was over, fans in front of the venue glowed rather sensationally. Though musical theater might be the inspiration behind the set, this was miles better than a musical. It was a wonderful, disjointed trio of bands at the Great American.

-Phillip Taylor-Parker

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