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August 16, 2010

Concert review: MGMT @ Merriweather Post Pavilion

vocalist/guitarist Andrew VanWyngarden and keyboardist Ben Goldwasser

Midnight Sun correspondent Evan Haga saw MGMT at Merriweather Post Pavilion Saturday. Here is his review:

MGMT, a psychedelic quintet whose founders and leaders — vocalist/guitarist Andrew VanWyngarden and keyboardist Ben Goldwasser — are precocious, sometimes brilliant pop craftsmen, offered one of their biggest hits on Saturday night in a way that might be termed an "anti-performance."

To its pre-recorded synthesizer track, the two men sang "Kids" and danced modestly while the rest of the band loitered, nodded along or tooled around on their instruments. (At one point a bra was thrown onstage from the audience and tossed around until VanWyngarden put it on.)

The decision to go karaoke could have been interpreted a couple different ways, depending on what music blogs you read and how much of them you choose to believe. On one level it was an exercise in group catharsis; a way to get the players out from behind their instruments, get loose and enjoy a big falsetto hum-along with the large amphitheater crowd. In a different way it seemed to mock the song and deliver it as an afterthought; a kiss-off to a pop single from a band with much bigger ambitions, perhaps? ...

Gossip can be fun, but let's go with the former: The other party-starting early singles, "Time to Pretend" and "Electric Feel," were given the full-band treatment, and, actually, this has long been the band’s standard live delivery for "Kids." Still, the song deserved a little more elbow grease. After all, they care enough about the Grammy-nominated track to sue French President Nicolas Sarkozy for misusing it, and it surely helped them garner a fan base large enough to fill out a respectable portion of Merriweather.

The crowd was enviable for any working band, especially one with only two full-length albums to its credit: mostly college-aged or slightly older; loyal enough to adopt a neo-hippie-meets-hipster dress code that revolves around a headband or bandanna — a look the band invented but didn’t adhere to. And the loyalty didn't stop there.

Danceable synth-pop may have been MGMT's bread and butter early on, but those singles are actually aberrations at this point. The majority of the band's two Columbia-label LPs consists of formally involved yet impressively tuneful psychedelic rock that seems equally indebted to '60s British Invasion and California pop and to the more recent bands — the Flaming Lips, Spacemen 3 — who've worshiped similar gods. Both of MGMT's offerings are exemplars of songwriting, baroque arrangement and expansive sonics — the sort of front-to-back listens worth a turntable and a nice set of headphones, and an argument for major labels giving promising young people some coin without micromanaging them.

MGMTThroughout this roughly 90-minute performance, MGMT focused on convincingly recreating those recorded performances. On film, they've taken advantage of bigger budgets and creative license, releasing music videos that suggest everything from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí to zombie movies, but this was a fairly straight-ahead concert with a sharp set list and some simple yet effective psychedelic projections.

VanWyngarden, Goldwasser, drummer Will Berman, bassist Matthew Asti and guitarist/keyboardist James Richardson mostly stayed put without props or gimmicks — the Lips live this was not. Aside from some guitar heroics courtesy of Richardson, the most Woodstock-looking of the bunch, or a few words of thanks from VanWyngarden, the majority of this gig presented the sort of parlor game the Beatles tribute band the Fab Faux has made a go of: That is, where are those sounds on the record coming from? Ah, that's a synth handling the koto-like timbres on "Congratulations"; oh, that's a real electric sitar on "Someone's Missing."

On more complexly structured songs like the epic "Siberian Breaks"; "It's Working," which resembled sunshine pop as interpreted by Air; or "Flash Delirium," the precision and execution were imposing. "Destrokk," an older song, was a decidedly contemporary-sounding rocker and an overall highlight. Less thrilling were VanWyngarden's vocals, even as the group nailed surf-rock harmonies, and even if certain vocal moments — say, the squeezed tenor the singer fell into on slower numbers like "I Found a Whistle" and "Pieces of What" — were winning.

This material doesn't call for a vocalist of any real power or singularity, but VanWyngarden had trouble projecting and some general pitch problems — most obvious in Prince-falsetto mode, as on "Electric Feel." Not that it mattered much to the fans, who ate the show up in its entirety, far beyond the spare synth-pop moments, and even when it resembled some esoteric meld of the Mamas & the Papas and Spiritualized.

Opening act Devendra Banhart's set worked in an opposing fashion. If you hadn't kept up with him, you might've expected a Norcal freak-folkie looking Jesus-chic and playing through composed acoustic rambles. Instead, Banhart wore very short hair and danced as if on the verge of a bathroom break. His band — a jaunty, taut guitar-rock five-piece — and vocals — a sly croon that suggested Lou Reed with a voice coach — called forth the Lower East Side of mid-'70s Manhattan.

(Handout photos)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:37 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Concert reviews


When I saw MGMT play at Yale this spring, they waited until the very end of the concert (when everyone was literally chanting 'Kids!') to begin playing their most popular song. At that moment, Andrew VanWyngarden said (into his microphone) "Okay, turn on the track." I agree that the performance level was down, and that they put much more heart into their new album.

I understand that they're trying to get away from being pigeonholed as "that band who plays 'Kids,'" but as someone who has their new album living in my stereo, I still wanna hear my old favorite song treated like its a new hit.

Hmmmm...I turned down a free ticket to this show. Wonder if I would have been stoked or if I dodged a bullet. Intriguing review.

I had a great time at the concert, wasn't sure if they could pull it off in a venue that big, but they surprised me and def put on a fun show

ugh....Hipster sludge.

I saw them playing two years ago, and they were already using karaoke on kids, so I guess it's not a new lack of respect for the song... I presume it was always a kitsch noise they made for fun and yeah, karaoke fits it right.

I haven't heard of them, do you have a sample music?

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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