A majority of the several thousand people gathered at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse Wednesday will likely remember it as “the night MGMT didn’t play 'Kids,'” and it’s not an unfair assessment. The band played many of its hits, but those songs, now six years old, were sprinkled amidst newer material that didn’t always catch on with an audience hoping to hear something familiar.
Under a thick fog, the band took the stage before an enormous crowd just as the fireworks hit their climax. (Though, according to a source near me, it was “nobody” compared to Pretty Lights on Saturday – startling news considering Wednesday’s post-apocalyptic atmosphere.) MGMT’s breezy psychedelia amplified the already surreal scene, as it drifted through openers “Flash Delirium,” “Weekend Wars” and the lilting “I Found A Whistle” to set a laid back tone that got plenty of lighters/cell phones in the air.
I was backed up all the way to Angelo’s pizza booth, so I couldn’t actually see the band that well. But from what I glimpsed, the six dudes on stage looked pretty lackadaisical. I didn’t detect a lot of movement up there, aside from some shaggy heads bobbing. My sight was drawn mostly to the psychedelic visuals unfolding behind them – a litany of images that got progressively stranger, beginning with standard “trippy geometric patterns,” evolving into a seagull flying through space, a weird insect creature and a six-legged sheep.
Not surprisingly, the crowd didn’t awaken to its full force until about halfway through the set, when it heard those first disjointed plunks of monolithic hit “Time To Pretend.” Second-tier hits from Oracular like “Youth” and “Electric Feel” went over with fanfare, but not much fervor from the band itself. And as the set wore on, you could feel disappointment mounting for every song that wasn’t “Kids.” The band was understandably more interested in sharing new material – like the sprawling, strange “Alien Days” and “Your Life Is A Lie,” a darker take on the theme of “Time To Pretend.” Having heard them only once, they don’t seem like bad songs, but they aren’t the kind of thing that will have the masses singing along to every word. On a night when MGMT’s only real competition was LeAnn Rimes, this new stuff fell flat before an audience of casual fans with nothing better to do.
As MGMT continues to burrow into its own musical world, they put themselves at odds with a fanbase that will always want to hear those two or three hits from 2008. I would have liked to hear them play more from Congratulations, the excellent but overlooked follow-up to Oracular Spectacular. They closed with the title track from it: a light, breathy ballad about being simultaneously disillusioned with and dependent on fame. That has been MGMT’s story so far, and Wednesday’s set played right into it.