The horse and his boy. Matt Jordan

Midway through Of Montreal's show last Friday night at New York City's Roseland Ballroom, bandleader Kevin Barnes—wearing gold-lamé hot pants, makeup, and (naturally) nothing else—rode out onstage atop a live horse, singing into a microphone in one hand and gently stroking the animal's white mane with the other. It wasn't the weirdest sight of the night—the whole show played out like one unbelievably surreal dream—but it was the most quietly stunning.

Elsewhere in the performance, Barnes appeared as an electric-blue mariachi with a pink sombrero strapped to his back; as a red-robed pope enthroned with a sexy nun lying at his feet; as a Voltron-like being with a giant head and limbs operated by invisible black-clad figures, in a pair of roller skates the size of bumper cars with an oversized blue-sequin fanny pack to match; as a centaur with working hind legs provided by someone in the modified ass section of a two-man horse costume; and as a ghost or mummy covered in white shaving cream. He emerged from a curtained box carried by four lumpy, golden, doughboyish bearers. He was entertained by a sword dancer in an inflated polka-dotted garbage bag wielding what looked like giant crab legs. He was begged for (but decided to deny) clemency by a prisoner in an animal mask. He was hung and sang while dangling from his noose. He rose again from a white coffin. He shot glitter out of a spotlight-shining cannon.

Throughout, Barnes's bandmates—dressed in a tutu, a tuxedo, cowboy attire, an Afro, and a vaguely shamanic cloak, respectively—played on risers of various dizzying heights flanking the center stage, frequently switching instruments and positions, darting up and down the cliffs like nattily dressed mountain goats. In the canyon formed between the risers, there was a white screen that occasionally drifted upstage and swung around to reveal a series of set pieces. There was an old-West saloon scene that broke inevitably into a brawl, cowboys flipping the card table and drawing pistols, a piano man breaking a bottle over someone's head, one downed gunman falling backward through the saloon doors and accidentally pulling the scenery down with him. There was a tableau of domestic abuse frozen midstrangulation.

Downstage, a bunch of other shit happened: The lumpy gold figures did a synchronized dance led by Barnes; a tiger-headed man in a white suit was beaten to the ground by a mob of black-bodysuited figures while a video of tiger heads flashed above the stage; a pipe-playing satyr cavorted with masquerading revelers; a beach scene unfolded with a simulated nudist couple caressing each other while a muscle man in a naval cap and his trophy blonde, both clothed, looked on, annoyed.

Some moments were more lyrically literal: A crew of paramilitaries in camouflage and black ski masks stormed the stage as Barnes sang about "midnight raids" on "An Eluardian Instance," breaking formation as all but one of their number was overcome by ecstatic dancing until the remaining soldier sprinkled glitter over each of them, transforming them, one by one, back into goose-stepping zombies. "Gallery Piece" was accompanied by a corresponding video (e.g., for the line "I wanna be your what's happening," the screen flashed a shot of the cast of the TV show What's Happening). Barnes emerged with his whole body painted crimson for the song "Plastis Wafers," with its lines "You give me such a rush/Make my whole body blush."

Of Montreal played mostly songs from the new album, Skeletal Lamping, their ninth, out October 21 on Polyvinyl, along with a few select older numbers. Skeletal Lamping largely eschews traditional song structures, opting instead for songs that segue directly into each other, forming multiple-track suites, or else seem to turn into new songs midway through, unfolding in multiple discrete passages rather than repeating parts. Listening to the album without looking at your playback device, you'd be hard-pressed to tell where one song ends and another begins. To re-create these blurring and jarring effects, the band played several sets of songs back to back, as they are on the album.

The album is every bit as ambitious and absurd as the stage show. For one thing, it's being released in a variety of unusual physical mediums, including traditional CDs and vinyl as well as T-shirts, button sets, wall decals, paper lanterns, and tote bags, all packaged with codes for MP3 downloads of the album.

Musically, the album is the fruitful culmination of a years-long metamorphosis for Of Montreal, begun midway through their career with Satanic Panic in the Attic, from lo-fi cartoon psych-pop to their current idiosyncratic mix of imaginative glam, dark disco, fey pop, and freaky funk. Skeletal Lamping shifts easily from pomp and fanfare (the platform-boot-stomping piano chorus and swooning synths of "Triphallus, to Punctuate!" and the gaudy horns of "An Eluardian Instance") to gentle acoustic ballads ("Touched Something's Hollow," the second passage of "Death Is Not a Parallel Move"), with plenty of unexpected hairpin musical turns in between. As with his recent albums, Skeletal Lamping was written, played, and recorded almost entirely by Barnes, with his band joining him only to realize the material live, but its densely layered multitracked vocal harmonies, guitars, synths, drum machines, and effects hardly sound like a solo effort.

Or maybe it just sounds like a schizophrenic solo effort, as Skeletal Lamping famously stars Georgie Fruit, Barnes's glammed-up stage alter ego, an imaginary fortysomething, black, transsexual '70s funk singer who first appeared in the lyrics of Hissing Fauna. But Skeletal Lamping is no simple rock opera or concept album. It doesn't so much have a narrative arc as it does a series of strange scenes, folding in on and out of itself like a dream, with Barnes playing a cast of characters, fluidly shifting identities (and gender roles, races, and sexual orientations)—it's rather like the stage show. Lyrically, Skeletal Lamping marks a new, weird high for Barnes, successfully combining the two polar ends of his songwriting spectrum: the revealingly personal psychological dramas of Hissing Fauna with the fanciful storytelling of earlier albums.

The album begins, on "Nonpareil of Favor," with Barnes singing over some traipsing harpsichord, "My lover, I've been donating time to review/All the misinterpretations that define me and you." It reads like a dedication or an apology for how Hissing Fauna's uncommonly direct autobiographical songs (such as "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal," which detailed the breakup of Barnes and his now reconciled wife, Nina) led to his family's personal life being dissected in the press. The song's next line, "I'm thinking about you in my secret language," sets the agenda for the rest of the album—there is real substance here, but it's disguised and mixed with enough fantasy so as to be more safely indecipherable.

By the beginning of Lamping's next song, "Wicked Wisdom," Barnes is fully draped in Georgie Fruit's colorful drag, boasting, "I'm a motherfucking headline/But, bitch, you don't even know it" (one can't help but think of the tabloid headlines of Prince's Controversy here). But Barnes is continually peeking out from behind the masks and curtains. Sometimes, Barnes is singing as Fruit, sometimes he's singing about him, other times he seems to be addressing one or the other of them as someone else entirely.

Fruit (Barnes?) is omnivorously hypersexual—he "take[s] it both ways," takes women "standing in the kitchen, ass against the sink," "turn[s] tricks on the hood of [a] car," wants to make you "ejaculate till it's no longer fun," doesn't "wanna be your man/just wanna play with you." (Fruit's gender-bending, "queered out" personality could seem like crass tourism or sexual minstrelsy, if it weren't for the fact that Barnes ultimately seems so genuinely sympathetic.)

Barnes (Fruit?) is prone to self-analytic psychobabble—"screaming out to [the ladies] from the depths of this phallocentric tyranny," "roleplay[ing] Oedipus Rex," wondering "why [he's] so damaged, girl," or emerging from a cloud of voices, from "bad weather in [his] temporary head," to sing, "I'm just trying to get healthy."

Both indulge in sometimes sinister, sometimes sublime psychedelic fantasy. At other times, Barnes's inventive, hyperspecific lyrics are grounded in the mundane ("He's the kind of guy who would leave you in a K-hole/To go play Halo in the other room.") This ultimately is what makes all of the above work: Barnes is a ridiculously gifted songwriter; he makes what looks conceptually bloated on paper sound like the most natural thing in the world.

The New York show ended with the cast (which includes Barnes's wife, brother David, and various other lovers, friends, and exes of the band) coming out for a bow and the new drummer leading the crowd in a chant of "What do we want? PIZZA! When do we want it? PIZZA!" For the encore, the band, cast, and opening act all returned to the stage for a version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that lit up the capacity crowd like a sea of Black-Cat firecrackers.

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Last time Of Montreal played Seattle, there were rumors that Barnes would be singing from atop a 15-foot-tall dress, like some kind of glam Mother Ginger. No such fantastic props materialized at the show, however, and instead Of Montreal played with merely the usual makeup, spandex, and sequins. Even a fraction of this show's spectacle would make for an awesome concert. Everything but the horse is supposed to make it out on this tour. recommended

Of Montreal play Nov 19 at Showbox Sodo, 8 pm, $20, all ages.