MGMT, Tame Impala
House of Blues
June 8, 2010
Better than: Hearing these songs yet again in a movie trailer, commercial or clothing store.
For anyone keeping track of MGMT these days, this most likely won't come as a shock: The band's sold-out show last night at the House of Blues in Dallas proved to be a study in extremes--and perhaps even a battle of wills between the audience and headliner.
As has been widely reported, and perhaps over-exaggerated, MGMT's latest release, Congratulations, is a stylistic and philosophical departure from their smash debut, Oracular Spectacular; the psychedelic whimsy of the latest album contrasts with the tightly produced dance-pop of Oracular--to the point where it is clearly tough for the ass-shaking fans of the first record to fully embrace the tripped-out, vintage vibe of the recent release.
It was obvious how the crowd felt about the two releases: The royal, rambunctious welcome the audience offered numbers from the first album provided quite the contrast to the nonchalance that the diligently rendered newer songs received.
It didn't take long for this dichotomy to take hold: The band, led by the shaggy-haired, guitar-playing Andrew Van Wyngarden and the bespectacled Ben Goldwater, had already knocked out a couple of songs, including an urgent, rousing rendition of "Flash Delirium" from Congratulations, when, far as much of the crowd was concerned, the show began in earnest; the dance rhythm of "Electric Feel" bounced off the stage to tremendous approval.
At that point, many a glow-in-the-dark headbands and necklaces whipped and swung throughout the packed house. It wasn't too long before some of those idiotic wastes of plastic found their way onto the stage, forcing band members to duck and bob out of harm's way at various points of the evening.
While it surely isn't unheard of for a band to rush through their hits, in order to focus on the newer material, MGMT played it pretty fair when it came to putting forth their best effort for their entire catalog.
But there were concerns: Another division that formed during the evening was between the varying degrees of effectiveness of Van Wyngarden's vocals. On songs such as "The Youth," he would fly into a delicate, airy register and relinquish the power that he ably proffered during "Brian Eno," when he was able to really belt out from his gut to a satisfying degree.
As for the older songs: "Weekend Wars" retained its percussive fervor (Will Berman on drums pumped some serious pulse into much of the set) and the acoustic-tinged "Pieces of What" was directed perfectly into an alt-country number that morphed into a porch-stomper that showed the group can get creative with their own arrangements; "Time to Pretend," meanwhile, with its crunchy synth, was dutifully replicated and displayed evidence of this band's legitimacy as a pop-powered steamroller.
As for the new stuff: The songs sprinkled into the set not only showed the band's significant growth, but provided the highlights of the night for anyone not looking to dry-hump during "Electric Feel."
"It's Working" took the crowd on a psychedelic tide of surf-rock, complete with some righteous bongos that came across pristinely, while "I Found a Whistle" and "Congratulations," which closed out the regular set, both benefited from a bit of added muscle--especially "Whistle", where the tune crescendoed with great bombast.
The smallest surprise of the year might be that MGMT didn't even have to play their instruments during the encore of "Kids" to elicit the loudest, most joyful cheers of the night.
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The band walked around the stage, singing to the track. And, hey, since it's one of their older songs, everyone was happy.
Personal Bias: Sure, I like Oracular Spectacular. But of the two, Congratulations will most likely be the MGMT album I reach for when I need a fix of the band. MGMT has publicly said that they wanted this to be a more mature album, and to that end, they absolutely succeeded.
Random Note: Opening band Tame Impala from Australia looked as though they were fresh out of Zounds Sounds. But their brand of spacey, stoner, prog-rock was pretty epic, regardless. Their inclusion on the bill seemed to be another method for MGMT to show us how very psychedelic they have become. Black light posters were also available for sale at the merch table.
By The Way: There was an impressive range of ages on display in the packed audience. MGMT seems to be the band that 15-year-olds and their 65-year-old grand parents can agree upon.