Wednesday, April 23, 2008

MGMT - Live at the Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR 2008/04/22

MGMT are an electronic rock band out of Brooklyn, NY, who dropped one of this year's most versatile and exciting albums with their debut disc, Oracular Spectacular. If you judge a group by their album covers (there are no less than two for this one), there's both a neo-hippie, Burning Man-flavored tribalism at the heart of the group, as well as a warmly nostalgic, yet updated nod to 70's prog, rock and glam. When you listen to the record itself, all of these aesthetics are exhibited in sound, from the chorused falsettos on the very dancy "Electric Feel", to the sarcastic, Prozac-driven rock star narration of the album's opener, "Time To Pretend".

They saved this track for later at last night's show at the Doug Fir Lounge, opening instead with the album's second song, "Weekend Wars". On the record it sounds like an outtake from Ziggy Stardust meshed with Led Zeppelin's "Thank You" and filtered through Prince's Paisley Park studios. In the audience at the Fir, it sounded like a wave of distortion. Once the sound person inhaled a little of the reefer madness going around and got a handle on the equipment, things improved noticeably with "The Youth", another dreamy, mild-mannered psychedelic pop song. This is more Lenny Kravitz' 70's than it is Hawkwind's, so things never get too spaced out here, but that's a compliment to MGMT. "Of Moons, Birds & Monsters" was similarly done in tasteful fashion, conjuring up an alternate reality where Neil Young performs vocals on a driving electronic rock record. (Ok, that actually occurred in our own reality, but let's not revisit Trans right now).

"Kids" had a tasty little groove that had shoulders rocking back and forth, and I was surprised to find several people in the crowd actually singing along with "Pieces Of What", which last night sounded less like a somber Dream Syndicate song and a little more like "Another Girl, Another Planet". But it was "Electric Feel", which starts out with a cutesy synth line reminscent of the keyboard hook in Men At Work's "Down Under" before steering into the "Emotional Rescue"-like vocals, that was the most anticipated song of the night, judging by the number of people I heard calling for it in between songs. The pent-up enthusiasm of gel-haired clubbers and earth-huggers alike was unleashed, and the band kept it at full throttle by then launching into "Time To Pretend". Amazingly enough, the club didn't immediately empty out afterward, in spite of the fact that MGMT carried on with some psychedelia that was far less accessible and clearly indicative that the Mothership was fast approaching.

All of which will likely give you the impression that Peace, Love, Unity, and Rock Respect ruled the night, but in fact there was an unsettling emptiness about the whole affair onstage. I spent half the show trying to figure out what it was, and then it suddently struck me -- Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden hadn't looked at each other the entire time. Not once. Not even by accident to bare their fangs and spit at each other. For a band which conveys such a spirit of community on record to have it's two principle players refuse to acknowledge each other's existence onstage is downright unsettling. Hopefully it's a just a temporary bout of irritability and not a sign of deep unrest between the pair, and things will end like a Harold and Kumar film, with the two guys going on some wacky, wild adventures that ultimately end with their friendship becoming even stronger. After a lot of weed, of course.

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