On a rain dampened Tuesday night in Sydney, MGMT’s Ben Goldwasser and Andrew Van Wyngarden, accompanied by a traveling band of three, took to a sold out Metro Theatre with a live show that both pleased, shocked and perhaps even mocked their anticipating audience.
I’ll be honest; I’m not a huge MGMT fan. I think their tunes are catchy and I distinctly remember manically dancing like a possessed and sweaty electric eel one summer during a certain Hottest 100 countdown, but the whole mega produced electro thing doesn’t always hold up well on the live stage, unless you have a kick ass and aesthetically stimulating show to back it up, and from what I’d heard, our New York showmen du jour ain’t no Peaches or Iggy when it comes to stage presence.
Despite my initial apprehension, the show started strong, with a sweet new tune worthy of a 50s teen movie. Eugene from Grease was even getting in on the action, masquerading as geek-chic keyboardist Goldwasser and singing in harmony like the fate of his prom date’s panties depended on it. Getting it out of the way early, Electric Feel sent the appropriate amount of hysteria through the crowd, working them in to a sweaty frenzy and beginning the epic one-sided crowd interactivity that continued on into the night. A general appearance of aloofness and dare I say it, boredom evident among the band was contrasted by their enthusiastic crowd. Despite their uninterested façade, the music emanating from the stage was laden with frenetic energy. Pounding bass and a drum kick akin to a heartbeat sent shivers down the spines of the entire crowd.
Impressive new material offered a change of pace from a string of familiar dance floor anthems. Slow and reflective but also fast and punchy at times, repetitive hooks didn’t disappoint the drunken choir of fans in the front row who were more than keen for a sing along. This fresh repertoire heralds perhaps a new direction for a band we’ve probably only associated with the indie dance music scene. Bringing out the acoustic guitar to serenade the crowd, the band cemented their new-found alt-folk qualities. A distinctive surf rock vibe also emerged, with twangy guitar and a banging bass drum, harmonious ‘whoo-ohs’ intertwining with the live sounds of bongos, tambourine and harmonica (well, harmonica programmed keys anyway).
So what is it that’s made MGMT change their tune (no pun intended)? Is it that electro is passé and folksters are the new hipsters? Now they can afford to tour with an entire band as opposed to two guys and a backing track? Or was it simply a case of mistaken identity to begin with? A certain youth music programmer commented after the show that they’re basically a psych-indie band at heart who just happen to have three danceable songs on one record, the only songs people know, so they’ve been pigeon holed as this nu rave electro/dance band when really, they just wanna play guitar.
As if to challenge one-dimensional fans of their mainstream party starting tunes, MGMT finished the show with a karaoke (yes, karaoke) version of Kids, even dismantling the drum kit mid-song to demonstrate the bitter irony of their success as an electrified, label bashed two-piece. “SO post modern,” uttered my industry friend.
With a set incorporating much of the strong, albeit different material from second album Congratulations, this unique Australian show (one of two in the country) gave us a taste of the new, or perhaps old, MGMT that wider audiences may not be familiar with; vaguely folk, alternative psych-rock that will most definitely not be hitting the commercial targets of its predecessor, Oracular Spectacular, much to the obvious chagrin of its associated suits.