BLOGS.CHRON.COM, JUNE 8, 2010
MGMT at the House of Blues
A little more than 24 hours after the Flaming Lips showered the still-damp crowd at Eleanor Tinsley Park with beauty and kindness and confetti, Brooklyn's MGMT took the stage at the House of Blues. The latter, whose first album, Oracular Spectacular, was produced by longtime Lips collaborator Dave Fridmann, was riding into town following the high of the weekend's Free Press Summer Fest.
Much has been written about the differences between that 2008 release and 2010's Congratulations. First there's the cover art from Houston-raised Low Brow-movement artist Anthony Ausgang. At first glance it looks like something you'd see on a Trapper Keeper, but beyond the bright colors there's a darker image of a surfing hedgehog about to be swallowed up by a wave shaped like a cat. The image is in step with MGMT's intention to make the album a response to its precipitous rise to fame -- OS has sold more than 1 million copies worldwide.
Secondly, there are no discernible hits. No radio-ready singles or songs likely to end up in a VW ad. No Time to Pretend. No Kids. In fact, before its release, the band balked at any singles being released. Instead multi-instrumentalists Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden did the only thing they really could by striking out in a new direction and turning their backs on their phenom status.
However, it seems no matter the psyche-rock duo's intentions, many of their fans would prefer not to move past the hits of Oracular. In fact, it appeared that the vast majority attending the sold-out show paid full admission to hear about four songs: Electric Feel, Weekend Wars and the aforementioned Time to Pretend and Kids.
Performing before a background of white-sheet waves, Goldwasser and VanWyngarden -- joined by a tight backing band of bassist Matt Asti, guitarist James Richardson and drummer Will Berman -- went to Congratulation's Flash Delirium for the second song of the set. The song is a wild ride culminating in a frenzy of sound and the rat-a-tat of VanWyngarden's lyrics: "stab your facebook / sell sell sell / undercooked / overdone / mass adulation not so funny / poisoned honey / pseudo science / silly money / you're my honey" before coming to a screaming, screeching halt.
They followed with Youth before blasting into Electric Feel, both off Oracular. Electric Feel's irresistible vibe brought the distracted crowd back to the show, drawing cheers for the first time since the band took the stage. Neither VanWyngarden nor Goldwasser wasted much time chatting up the audience, instead moving quickly into It's Working and its head-nodding bass line. The stage and players were bathed in kaleidoscopic lights, which were a nice metaphor for music dripping with varied styles and influences.
Later in the show, after the haunting I Found a Whistle, VanWyngarden did talk to the crowd, explaining, "We don't jump around like some of those young bands. ... This is what we do." It was as if the singer could sense apathy in the audience (maybe I was just standing in a bad spot) and felt the need to address it.
Sandwiched between crowd-pleasers Weekend Wars and Time to Pretend (Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew) was the the ambitious 12-minute beauty Siberian Breaks, with its many twists and turns. Drummer Berman recently told the Chronicle's Andrew Dansby that the song is "probably the toughest (to play live) with a lot of jarring transitions. (Pauses and laughs.) The other night I saw a girl in the front row, she had a permanent yawn on her face through the entire song. I almost felt bad for her."
He and his bandmates may have seen a few more "permanent yawns" in this particular House of Blues audience Monday night.
But with the second song of their encore, MGMT gave the crowd what it demanded, and it responded by erupting into a dancing mass after the first few synthesized notes of Kids. Goldwasser came out from behind the keyboards and VanWyngarden put down his guitar and the two performed the song as the other members of the band became back-up dancers. Everyone on stage seemed to be having a great time, which shows that no matter the direction the band has decided to go with its new material, its members enjoy sharing where they've been with their fans.
The members of MGMT might not be able to command attention with the laser-like precision of Wayne Coyne and Co., but give them time; they are still young. And for those still riding the wave of Summer Fest good will like a video-game hedgehog, they made it three days of exciting shows in Houston.