MGMT trips and falls in SLC (6/4)

It’s no secret that MGMT’s Congratulations didn’t nearly live up to the high bar its predecessor set. It charted lower, it wasn’t necessarily a critical darling, and most important of all, it wasn’t well-received by consumers, all of whom were expecting big things from the psychedelic duo. Textbook sophomore slump.

I regrettably have the unfortunate responsibility to inform you that the live performance of this album mirrors exactly what the charts do: underwhelming. There are only two logical reasons that come to mind when I try to think of why anyone would buy tickets to this show (it was nearly sold out). First, maybe people were so nostalgic for a hit of summer 2008 they shelled out the 30 bucks. But I hardly think people would be so reckless with their money in an economic crisis. No, far more likely is the second reason. The majority of kids today are so disillusioned and desperate for belonging that they fell for the façade that Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Wasser have cooked up to make money.

I take nothing away from the songwriting capabilities or musicianship of the group, for it’s easy to see that it exists somewhere within them. They have an obvious knack at writing pop music, but that vein goes untapped because they’re trying to sell an image more than they’re trying to sell music. There seems to be no end to their shamelessness in attempting to come across as “psychedelic” and “experimental”, and because of that, I find it tough to enjoy their music consistently. The majority of MGMT’s back catalogue plays like an “of Montreal for dummies” record.

But I’ll get off my high horse and tell you how the show was, because that’s what we’re all here for, right? Well, MGMT came out to a roaring group of teenage fans cheering things like “Viva la MGMT!” and “We f***ing love you, Andrew!” So, at the very least, loyalty has remained somewhat intact through their failure at a second record. But even the most zealous fans couldn’t get into the songs played from Congratulations. Album single “Brian Eno” was received by kids blankly staring and waiting for a track from Oracular Spectacular. I literally heard someone say to his buddy, “Dude, I’m gonna stick around ‘til they play “Electric Feel” and I’m gonna bounce,” and I think this was the mindset of just about everyone in attendance. We want to hear the songs that made us feel good in ’08, not the garbage you put out.

So, that’s the bad news. The good news is, those three tracks the naïve concert-goers were waiting for – “Kids”, “Time To Pretend”, and “Electric Feel” – were all played, and they were all very dance-able. While not brilliant at interacting with their crowd (a “thank you” here and the occasional “how’s everybody feeling?” there), MGMT is spot on when it comes to sound. VanWyngarden’s vocals were particularly tight on all tracks, but especially on stripped down versions of “Weekend Wars” and “Pieces of What”.

Stage setup was sub-par as well. A good indicator of how a band is doing financially is how elaborate and ornate their stage and lighting are. And I would have to guess that MGMT took a big hit to the nads financially with the stage they produced. A few lights here and there, and some psychedelic circular lights on a blank white back wall were all the theatrics they sprung for, and it subtracted from the experience. MGMT is meant to be heard with crazy acidic visions in your mind’s eye (at least if we’re to follow their new path), and the band did not deliver on this front.

All in all, though, it wasn’t for the worst. MGMT proved that they still have some talent somewhere, and they reminded us that once upon a time they put out a good record. Hopefully they can take this failure at a sophomore album and use it as a “what not to do” so that we as consumers don’t have to pay good money so we can “bounce as soon as they play ‘Electric Feel’”. MGMT’s still got quite a few more dates planned, and maybe their live act will become more polished with time, but if you’re sitting on the fence as to whether or not you want to go when they come to your city, I’d say this is one that’s safe to miss.


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