The last time Of Montreal performed in Des Moines was in front of the first-ever sold-out crowd at the Vaudeville Mews (capacity: about 220).
Sunday they'll close out 80/35. That big change in crowd size almost matches the change in stage show the band has undergone in the last half decade. Frontman Kevin Barnes and crew turn each live performance into a theatrical event, with recurring characters like Nitro the pig and his girlfriend Nitrous. Sometimes there's wrestling, with band members battling it out, "Royal-Rumble" style.
Then there are moments when Barnes, the petite 37-year-old white guy, becomes a middle-aged transgendered African American named Georgie Fruit. This isn't a physical transformation, but Georgie is a theme over Of Montreal's last three albums, and Barnes said the character allows him to explore his music.
"When I was first getting into writing more sexual songs it helped to have this persona I could hide behind," Barnes said during a phone interview. "But over the last couple years I've realized I didn't need a persona. I could just write these things and not need to feel insecure about it. So the Georgie character has been integrated into my psyche. I don't see the distinction anymore."
The transformation across 2007's "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer," "Skeletal Lamping" (2008), and last year's "False Priest" show Of Montreal to be a far different band than the one that recorded 2005's "The Sunlandic Twins." The '60s pop-inspired sounds of "Twins" gave way to '70s funk and soul inspirations on "False Priest." Barnes cited Parliament, Sly & The Family Stone, and even sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick as big influences on the new album.
"The goal was to come up with something that was a combination of The Beatles and Parliament," he said.
Barnes is a multi-instrumentalist and normally records every part on an album, then the band learns the songs for touring. With "False Priest," however, he worked with an outside producer (Jon Brion) and Tori Amos drummer Matt Chamberlain. He also brought in Janelle Monae and Solange Knowles (Beyonce's sister) to sing on tracks.
"Getting really obsessed with Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell was a big part of that for me," Barnes said. "With the grand history of male-female duets, I wanted to throw a couple of my own into the arena."