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MGMT played two nights at the Fillmore in San Francisco as their new album Congratulations was released.
From the selection of opener Helios Creed, whose pre-industrial/noise rock (with band Chrome and as a solo artist) has influenced seminal bands like the Butthole Surfers and Ministry, to the complimentary poster that both stole from and paid tribute to the venue’s illustrious past, MGMT wear their psychedelic, rock and pop influences on their sleeves.
A song like “Brian Eno” needs no further explanation, but tracks like “I Found a Whistle” and the title track “Congratulations” are pleasantly reminiscent of Marc Bolan and T.Rex, especially when performed live.
Call me crazy, but I can’t help but draw stylistic comparisons to bands like the Zombies or even the Kinks at certain points.
Helios Creed definitely brought the noise, cutting a towering figure and chugging through a nice-sized set, eliciting some polite head-bobbing from people patiently waiting for the main event.
A small contingent of older gothic die-hards rocked out in support Helios and promptly disappeared the minute his set had ended.
MGMT are clearly a band with one foot firmly planted in the past.
The irony may be that their youngest fans seem vehemently nostalgic, too: while infectiously poppy tunes from their first album (“Time to Pretend”, “Electric Feel”, and especially “Kids”) brought the most enthusiastic responses from the audience, it was surprising how little familiarity or energy people showed during songs from MGMT’s fantastic new album, despite a much-publicized leak and subsequent decision to stream the album for free.
While Congratulations is a stronger album as a whole, its lack of a certified dance pop hit may lose the majority of audiences.
With the band’s set relying heavily on its sophomore effort, pockets of the crowd (including the teenyboppers surrounding me near the front of the stage) seemed to drift away at times.
The band opened with “It’s Working,” the first song from the new album, and hopped between their two albums from that point on.
Overall, the band put forth a straight-forward and enjoyable performance, letting the hooks and energy of the songs work the crowd more than any overt stage theatrics.
Andrew VanWyngarden was the most playful and engaging member of the group by far, having the whole band exit the stage before playing a single note, “restarting” the show because he had some initial technical difficulties.
Later during the set, he pleased some of the teens from my general area by sporting some sunglasses they had thrown on stage for him.
During the encore, Helios Creed emerged to contribute some echo-drenched guitar, which was hilariously over-powering for the first couple minutes, until a sound engineer mixed him politely into place.
“Kids” was by far the audience favorite and a high point of the night: MGMT’s core, Ben Goldwasser and VanWyngarden, appeared to perform the song to a pre-recorded track, dancing and playing catch with drumsticks, occasionally hitting the drummer’s cymbals for accent.
The rest of the band joined them halfway through the song, layering guitars, percussion, and synths on top of an already-dense dance track, Goldwasser hammering away at his keyboard and VanWyngarden slamming his guitar neck into a nearby keyboard to interesting sonic effect.
While the band’s performance was fun and entertaining, I found the lack of engagement on the crowd’s part disturbing.
Particularly distracting was the self-parodying preponderance of fans that seemed more interested in capturing the performance on their phones for posterity than actually having fun and enjoying themselves in the present.
I’m sure that MGMT, and all the bands they lovingly and skillfully take inspiration from, would prefer their fans put down the mobile devices and dance.