Under New MGMT: Live at The Anthem

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MGMT Live at the Anthem on March 15th (Photo: Nick Dye)

My friend had a dated reaction when I told him I was attending an MGMT show. In his perspective, MGMT was two guys from Wesleyan who were really into psychedelia. (One of my friend’s favorite rappers is MGMT’s Wesleyan classmate, Heems.)

That is an absurd way to describe MGMT. They’re in their mid-30’s. MGMT has been part of the alternative-rock conversation for a decade.

Oracular Spectacular, their debut album, took the band to the top of the alternative charts in 2007-8. The record spawned three hit singles: “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel” and “Kids.” In all likeliness, one of these songs has been in your head as one point or another.

MGMT was everywhere, but still a band someone had to tell you about. They collaborated with Kid Cudi and Ratatat on “The Pursuit of Happiness.” “Kids” was sampled by Chiddy Bang, who would love to have a fraction of MGMT’s relevance. “Electric Feel” was sampled by both the golden voices of Frank Ocean and, probably, Miguel.

With success off the bat, MGMT chose to experiment rather than build on their debut sound. The next two albums, 2010’s Congratulations and 2013’s MGMT, were made for the band rather than for the fans. Neither album charted well, though many fans worship Congratulations.

Last month, the band returned after a five-year gap with Little Dark Age. The band admitted in a Vice interview that their fourth album was made for their label, Columbia, to make hits again. Columbia’s challenge paid off. Little Dark Age is their most enjoyable and electric album since Oracular Spectacular.

LDA is a reflection on an over-connected society. The opener, “She Works Out Too Much,” is about swipe-right-or-left dating and the complicated ease of discarding people. “TSAMP,” stands for Time Staring At My Phone.

The strongest songs are the title track and “Me and Michael.” Both tunes are the synth-pop-rock you should expect from MGMT. “I dream in stereo/The stereo sounds strange,” frontman Andrew VanWyngarden hauntingly growls. The hooks are almost as catchy as the big three off Oracular.

My friend John invited me to join him at MGMT’s ides of March show at the Anthem at the Wharf in Washington D.C. I had heard that MGMT concert had been trips back in their late-00’s heyday. It had to be worth a look, even a decade later.

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MGMT opening their show to “Little Dark Age” (Photo: Nick Dye)

After 2013’s MGMT, the band went on hiatus. John saw one of their shows before their break. He said they were fed up back then. They clearly needed some space. The same band he saw was not the one playing at the Anthem.

Little Dark Age has reenergized MGMT. They’re touring off an album with much more chutzpah than the previous two. They opened with the title track emitting a haunted energy to start the show.

The latest album has enough glam and glitz to support a big, visual show. VanWyngarden and Goldwasser performed in front of a LED display similar to the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Complementary visuals were displayed on the projections behind them. The optics were delightfully trippy and cartoonish with haunted mansions for “When You Die” and a fake iPhone screen during “TSLAMP.

The majority of the show showcased songs from LDA. The band played the three big hits off the Oracular plus “Of Moons, Birds and Monsters.” They also provided something for the diehard fans by playing the title track off Congratulations. (Apparently, nobody wanted to play or hear anything from MGMT.)

Concertgoers were surprisingly young considering MGMT’s decade-long career. You might expect MGMT’s fans to be the same age as the band members, but the majority were in their early twenties, like myself who listened to them between middle school and high school. (Two exceptions being the teenager who filmed the entirety of “Electric Feel” on his Android in front of my face — and also that of  his dad.)

The enthusiasm was high for the hits, but that was always a given. The crowd knew the new album and clearly enjoyed most of it. “Me and Michael,” garnered as much enthusiasm as “Time to Pretend.” Arguably, the most excitement from the diehard fans was for “Congratulations,” as a surprise.

The band doesn’t act like they’ve been doing this as long as they have. VanWyngarden spoke nervously and softly between songs, if he spoke at all. Goldwasser didn’t muster a word. MGMT just came to play the songs. The only theatrics were VanWyngarden singing on a exercise bike for “She Works Out Too Much” and splicing in the theme from The NeverEnding Story in the middle of “Kids.”
MGMT can still put on a fun show after a few missteps. Debatably, LDA is a return to form quality wise, but it’s definitely one for the band’s energy. Visually, they put on a great show.  Sonically, the new songs lost a little oomph live, but that could be blamed on the overly spacious Anthem. Overall, they delivered on a tracklist that rounded out the entire MGMT experience.

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