MGMT shows dark and inventive side

Categories: Chicago Sun-Times

June 19, 2010

By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times


To the shorthand generation, that summed up Friday night at the Riviera. MGMT (please don’t call them ‘Management’ OK?) is the hot band this summer because of a late spring album release that catapulted the band from a viral phenomenon to a second chapter, where it is evident the band is far darker and more inventive than could have been imagined.

Home is Brooklyn, but the only things that MGMT shares with bands from that ZIP code are skinny jeans and incoherent stage patter. The residuals are in the songs, which in this 90-minute show did not follow any certain pattern or expectation. Like Pavement, the lo-fi art-pop collagists from the 1990s that is probably the best blueprint for this band, MGMT is melodic, but in small pockets and through loop-de-loop psychedelics. On “Congratulations” (Columbia), the band teeters the high wire between straightforward accessibility and damaged dementia and never lets one side swallow the other whole.

“Song for Dan Treacy” opened the set with the kind of spare, rhythmically elastic pop of the new album. Instead of stepping into a conventional frontman role, lead vocalist Andrew VanWyngarden stayed put. Not only were his vocals submerged in the calibrated blur of the soundboard but he also merged with the band to provide a unified front. The only star in the room was the quintet’s frenetic interchange.

The staccato dance funk of “Electric Feel” brought even the Riviera’s entire balcony to its feet. Songs like “Time to Pretend” bypassed most simple club fare; The heavy electro-pulse gave the song intensity, but VanWyngarden’s hushed lyrics pulled it inward for intimacy. With its playful pushing and pulling between moods and tones, the band understands dynamics and how they can make a song transcendent, not static.

Of course, there was some old-fashioned progressive rock carnage in the guise of “Siberian Breaks,” which backed up against “Brian Eno,” a jittery homage to the British art-rock veteran.

VanWyngarden’s partner Ben Goldwasser didn’t play a foil, only keyboards. Some of the riffs he played were short and simple, but they were the flavor of each song.

The weird but charming sound of this band has elements of what came before — along with Pavement, you could hear Prince, “White Album”-era Beatles and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis.

As much as the band excels at busy interplay, MGMT was at its best with less to do. The wistfulness of “I Found a Whistle,” meant following VanWyngarden’s acoustic guitar, which became the soulful center of these songs. Singing in a gentle falsetto, VanWyngarden sounded fragile, but only until the next anthem came around.

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