Sounds Local: Of Montreal founder calls style ‘wild and intractable’

  • The band Modern English will perform at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center on Sept. 16. In 2010, the band’s original lineup, minus drummer Richard Brown, reunited. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Of Montreal formed in 1996, the brainchild of Kevin Barnes. He calls the band’s style Freewave, which means “wild and intractable artistic expression.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Kurt Vile, based in Philadelphia, is a 20-year veteran of the indie rock scene, first gaining attention as the guitarist for the band War on Drugs. He will wrap up Tree House Brewing Co.’s summer concert series on Sept. 20. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/ADAM WALLACAVAGE

  • The alt-rock trio Dinosaur Jr., which formed in Amherst in 1983, has remained true to its local roots, with members living in the area and playing local shows on occasion. The band will be part of Tree House Brewing Co.’s concert series on Monday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/CARA TOTMAN

  • Henry Rollins, former lead singer for Black Flag and the Rollins Band, will bring his spoken word show to the Shea Theater Arts Center as part of the “Good to See You” tour. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

For the Recorder
Published: 9/13/2023 6:35:20 PM

The music scene here in Franklin County is off to a strong start this fall, with some nationally recognized artists coming to the area in the weeks ahead.

It starts this weekend at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield when the band Of Montreal takes the stage on Friday, Sept. 15, at 8 p.m. The indie-psychedelic pop band from Athens, Georgia that formed in 1996 is the brainchild of Kevin Barnes. Supposedly the name Of Montreal comes from Barnes, who was once dumped by a woman from Montreal (at least that is one of the stories that has been told over the years).

Through the years and various lineup changes, Barnes, the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, has remained the group’s core. Their vision and commitment to constantly evolving the band’s sound has made Of Montreal a favorite among fans and critics.

With each recording, Of Montreal has tapped into various musical influences, creating a hard-to-define sound. Some call it psychedelic, others experimental, while Barnes currently calls it Freewave. Psychedelia, funk, electronica, R&B and pop have all found their way into Of Montreal’s distinct style. Add to that their exciting live shows, which have found Barnes embracing various alter egos and incorporating elements of theater and comedy into their performances over the years.

Of Montreal is on tour in support of its 18th studio album, “Freeway Lucifer F***, F***, F***.” The album was born out of the isolation of the pandemic, and while it comes from a very different place than previous Of Montreal records, Barnes continues to push musical boundaries without losing his sense of fun.

“I wasn’t working with specific themes that I wanted to try and stretch over a three-minute pop song. It was sewing together a lot of fragmented thoughts,” Barnes explains, which ties in nicely to the ‘Freewave’ aspect of the album title’s meaning. “Freewave is my term for wild and intractable artistic expression.”

And it will most definitely be a night of wild and intractable artistic expression when Of Montreal takes the stage.

Next up at Hawks & Reed is the new wave/post-punk band Modern English on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m.

The band, which formed in Colchester, Essex, England in 1979, was a big part of the new wave movement of the 1980s. Even if you don’t think you have heard Modern English, my guess is that you have. The reason I say that is it’s nearly impossible that you have escaped the song “I Melt With You,” which was released in 1982 on the band’s second album, “After the Snow.” That release found the band moving away from the punkier sound heard on its first album and toward a more pop/new wave sound. This change was evident in “I Melt With You,” a song about love during the apocalypse. The song was a huge hit, receiving heavy airplay on modern rock radio, MTV and at dance clubs worldwide. It was also featured in the 1983 film, “Valley Girl.”

While it was Modern English’s biggest hit, the band is also known for such songs as “Hands Across the Sea” and “Ink and Paper.”

The group has undergone various splits and lineup changes over the years, but in 2010, the original members, minus drummer Richard Brown, got back together again. This tour will feature founding members Robbie Grey on guitar/lead vocals, Gary McDowell on guitar, Michael Conroy on bass, Stephen Walker on keyboards and longtime drummer Roy Martin.

You can expect to hear plenty of old favorites at this show, but this will not be a total night of nostalgia. The band will release a new album, “1 2 3 4,” in early 2024, so expect to hear some material from that upcoming release, too.

Modern English has been getting rave reviews for its current tour, so don’t miss out. Augustine’s Velo will open.

Tickets for Hawks & Reed shows are available at

Dinosaur Jr. at Tree House Brewing Co.

Tree House Brewing Co. has enjoyed a successful summer with the debut of its summer stage music series. Most of the shows sold out, and unless they sneak in some last-minute announcements, there are only two outdoor shows left for this year.

The first is local heroes Dinosaur Jr., who will play at Tree House on Monday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. The alt-rock trio that formed in Amherst in 1983 released its most recent album, the critically acclaimed “Sweep It Into Space,” in 2021. It’s the fifth release since the 2005 reunion of the group’s original lineup — J Mascis (guitar, vocals), Lou Barlow (bass, vocals) and Murph (drums).

Despite the success over the years, the trio never lost sight of its local roots, and remained living in the area and playing gigs here occasionally. Mascis resides in his hometown of Amherst, Murph settled in Deerfield and Barlow lives in Greenfield.

Their music remains melodic, aggressive and ear-crushingly loud. Even though this is an outside show, you still might want to bring your earplugs.

In other Dinosaur Jr. news, the trio recently announced that it will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its 1993 grunge album “Where You Been?” by playing a few shows where the album is performed in its entirety. These shows will take place in London and in Brooklyn in November. So far, those are the only dates planned for these anniversary shows.

Two days after the Dinosaur Jr. show, Kurt Vile and his band, The Violators, will wrap up the Tree House summer stage series on Wednesday, Sept. 20, at 7 p.m. Coincidently, Vile played on a few songs for Dinosaur Jr.’s “Sweep It Into Space” album. He’s currently on tour in support of his latest release, “Watch My Moves.”

Vile, based in Philadelphia, has been on the indie rock scene for more than 20 years. He first gained attention when he was the guitarist for the band War on Drugs, but left that to focus on making lo-fi recordings from home.

These days he is known for his excellent guitar work, speaking-sing vocal style, and long-form songs that he records and plays live with The Violators. Listeners know him for songs like “Pretty Pimpin” and “Waking on a Pretty Day.” Vile’s music is often called chill rock, an accurate term for his laid-back style.

Joanna Sternberg opens.

Henry Rollins at the Shea Theater Arts Center

Henry Rollins is a rock renaissance man known for his work as the lead singer for the hardcore band Black Flag and later the Rollins Band. The self-described workaholic is also a writer, actor, radio host, voiceover artist, and television show and spoken word artist.

Rollins gave up music a few years back and concentrates on his spoken word shows, and that’s what he’ll be doing when he takes the stage at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Sunday, Sept. 24, at 8 p.m. The tour launched last year is called “Good to See You ” and marked his first time on the road since the pandemic. These spoken word performances find Rollins talking rapidly about anything on his mind — his life, politics, music and more. He can be insightful, thought-provoking and downright hilarious.

Tickets are available at

Sheryl Hunter is a freelance writer who resides in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national publications. She can be reached at


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