I was in rewrite of my memoir and working as a late night server at Cafe’ Intermezzo on Peachtree Street in Atlanta when first I saw her. Her image immediately captivated me: pompadoured hair I adored and a cool cardigan framing her perfect pixie face.
A few weeks later, I waited on her and her entourage, including Nate “Rocket” Wonder – the man of sound behind her veritable wall of sound. We shared our stories of forays into art, of our efforts to bloom in an ATL that boomed around us.
Many years earlier, as I waited for takeout at The Grit restaurant in Athens, GA, I overheard Kevin Barnes speaking of his band, Of Montreal. The name struck my fancy, and I vowed to give them a listen and did.
A few years later while visiting a friend in Athens, I became acquainted with Of Montreal bassist Davey Pierce due to a collective affinity for scooter/moped crews and was inspired to dig further into their vast repertoire of recordings.
In Atlanta on November 6, 2010, my fandom of both acts culminated in a live show in Little Five Points that confirmed Georgia’s artistic musicality. Variety Playhouse was the venue, and never has that name been more fitting.
Janelle’s sharp looks and frenetic dance moves accentuated rather than overshadowed her music: an invented modern neo-soul meets songbird eclecticism that seemingly explains the rich American history of black music, while searching for the future. Even those unfamiliar with her in the audience recognized her rhythmic power and were awed by her singular voice – Janelle can really sing. Backed by tight musicians, she wound up the taut set with the stripped down single “Many Moons” and the romping hit “Tightrope,” as I tipped to the dance hook.
Deserving of an encore, there was one, a “La-La-La” singalong performed from stage to floor, reminiscent of the party energy of The B-52’s “Rock Lobster.” As Janelle’s rocking band crescendoed, she departed and the lights came on. I gave a shout out to Nate Wonder on the intermission and met some cute Chattanooga college kids in the big city South for the show.
The spectacle reached greater proportion as the headline act took the stage, seven musicians accompanying the lanky, fey, practically pansexual Kevin Barnes. The set started with the new album’s debut single “Coquet Coquette”, followed by an old fav of mine, “Suffer for Fashion.”
(Photo by: Han Vance)
Multi-costumed dancers, incredible video montage and the unbridled bouncing energy of Mr. Barnes pushed the show into the stratosphere. I was more overstimulated than a cokehead, more tripped out than an acid head, full of punch drunk love – as lifted as a sober man can be.
The theater only intensified as the band played good songs old and new. Kevin is a character on the level of Bowie or Prince, and he lives to push the envelope. At one point, his face broadcast from a giant cardboard TV set aliens assembled to watch. At another, he encouraged two feuding skeletons to kiss and makeup.
As the dream of a set ended, feathers filled the air, propelled from an alien’s head. I thought to myself: Earth is a pretty far out planet.
The band returned – beers in hand – to satiate the raucous crowd, while Kevin popped bubbly. I wondered what they could possibly do next. A Michael Jackson medley met and exceeded my encore expectations, especially as Janelle and the rest of the Wondaland Arts Society joined the fray, with my mate Nate on sticks, resplendent in his signature look of perfect dreads and a tux.
This lovely art was created here; Georgia as epicenter of modern music.