It's been two and a half years since I first saw MGMT play the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge‚ and, thankfully‚ a lot has changed. It could be that my then teenage ears simply weren't ready for MGMT's sound‚ but all I remember about their short set opening for of Montreal was two guys dancing around to prerecorded beats‚ occasionally sprinkling in lyrics and other random noises when they felt like it. ambitiously tried to describe the duo at the time as being "electro clash musical terrorists‚" but I can sum their chaotic set up in one word: disorienting. I can still recall the relief that swept over me when of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes walked onstage donning makeup and women's clothing. "Finally everything's back to normal‚" I thought.
Since then‚ MGMT have aged impressively well‚ not only returning to Higher Ground‚ but selling out a headlining show in support of their hipster-approved debut album‚ Oracular Spectacular. With all my friends all telling me I had to check out this great new band MGMT‚ I impulsively rushed out and bought the new album‚ all the while wondering if everyone had gone crazy‚ or if I was the crazy one for listening to them. Probably both were true‚ I concluded. When I popped the album in‚ I was shocked to hear keyboard driven indie pop with a healthy dose of choruses that were actually really catchy. One thing led to another‚ and I ended up having to cross something off my list of things I thought I would never ever do again - go to a MGMT show.
Vocalist/guitarist Andrew VanWyngarden and keyboardist Ben Goldwasser had won me over in studio form‚ but I was still skeptical about how they would take their short‚ electronically driven album and transform it into a full live experience. The excited capacity crowd helped MGMT's chances‚ as did the expansion to a five-piece touring band‚ with VanWyngarden and Goldwasser being joined by a rhythm guitar player‚ a bass player and a drummer. VanWyngarden casually addressed the crowd before easing into "The Youth‚" a bass heavy tune that a good chunk of the primarily college-aged crowd sang along to.
Having only released an EP and one album‚ MGMT avoided playing an all too abrupt set by adding extended jams into album tracks like "Electric Feel." For the first half of their 90-minute set‚ the band pretty much worked their way through songs from Oracular Spectacular‚ but they took advantage of their five-piece lineup‚ adding a fullness that MGMT would never be able to achieve as a duo. As the band worked through their set‚ the majority of the crowd seemed entertained‚ but not enough to put their beers down and dance up a storm. Certain album favorites like "Weekend Wars" and "The Handshake" provoked a good level of audience participation and movement‚ but fans seemed to lose focus when the band spent more than a few minutes on a jam. The group combated disinterest as their set drew to a close by unveiling their so-catchy-it's-not-fair single "Time To Pretend." A song about the fantasy rock star world of drugs‚ supermodels and fast cars set to synthesizers‚ "Pretend" boosted audience energy as much as ever‚ even if it didn't last.
Rather than continuing to feed fans easily digestible pop‚ VanWyngarden announced that they were going to play a 14-minute song‚ referencing the elongated songs of Jefferson Starship‚ a band playing next door‚ in the Ballroom. What followed was a schizophrenic collection of discarded song parts‚ pieced together like a new wave Mars Volta b-side. Parts of the jam were interesting‚ but most of the crowd seized the opportunity to get another drink from the bar.
Knowing the band didn't have a ton of recorded material‚ I wasn't sure if an encore was to be expected. It was another pleasant surprise when the band performed a healthy three-song encore‚ including a Kinks cover. I had a bit of a flashback during the last song of the night‚ "Kids‚" when MGMT dismissed their touring band and VanWyngarden and Goldwasser began dancing around to a prerecorded studio beat‚ holding a toy bullfrog and preying mantis puppet respectively. Although bizarre‚ I couldn't help but feel a rush and sing along with the duo and the ecstatic crowd‚ who were nearly all jumping up and down. It was then that I realized maybe MGMT don't need to be fully understood to be enjoyed. Either way‚ MGMT have made some great improvements‚ and it will be interesting to see how the band evolves over the next two and a half years.