Of Montreal make some of the happiest music this side of the Wiggles, blending all kinds of vaguely psychedelic pop — late-’60s Beatles, T. Rex, Berlin-era Bowie, Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat — into a tequila sunrise of good vibes. And last Friday night — at the start of a two-week stand climaxing this Saturday — front man Kevin Barnes took the stage at Ex_Plex and proposed. I don’t mean that he floated a theory, or proposed to rock our faces off; I mean that he proposed. “Will you marry us, L.A.?” he asked, the band playing “Here Comes the Bride,” Barnes in a wedding dress. Naturally, the capacity crowd roared back in the affirmative.
Part of the practically defunct Elephant 6 collective (the Athens, Georgia, collective also known for the Olivia Tremor Control, Apples In Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel) — Of Montreal have remarkably outlived the late-’90s retro-pop fad. You know: that era when certain indie kids dealt with the death of grunge by retreating into their parents’ vinyl collections, where everything was cheery and people’s heads were free of knit ski caps. (Some E6 music had the creepy quality of someone trying to convince himself he’s full of glee: “I’m happy, dammit!”)
Of Montreal’s latest album, The Sunlandic Twins (Polyvinyl), kind of sounds like Brian Wilson’s Smile as produced by Nile Rodgers of Chic, a funked-up indie-pop vibe the band capably reproduces onstage. At Ex_Plex — strung with paper streamers and Christmas lights to resemble a junior-high prom — the front man led his four-piece band through Of Montreal oldies and stuff from The Sunlandic Twins, Barnes changing outfits several times, from a rhinestone-encrusted denim shirt to a ’50s-ish peach raincoat. Fans threw their hands in the air and waved them like they just didn’t care. But care they did; Barnes had temporarily transported them into his utopia of the mind. It feels good there.