MGMT @ 9:30 Club

MGMT at 9:30club DCAll photos: Faith Desired

After what was, to be frank, a fantastic live performance at Bonnaroo, I promptly arranged to go see MGMT again in the club setting to see how they fared. What I stumbled upon was a mixed bag experience that, I’m not entirely convinced, is MGMT’s burden to bear.

Some of the underwhelment that filled the evening was due to one lackluster opener. Kuroma, an assorted quartet of shaggy jamsters, delivered an uninspired set to say the least. Treading some dreadful intersection of safe psychedelics, and Dylan-inspired jam rock, it was just plain unremarkable. The equivalent of targeted elevator music for the MGMT-awaiting masses.

The other opener for the evening, Violens, fared a bit better. Clearly an amalgamation of the influences from the overbearing 80s and 90s, you could easily imagine song segments inspired by distinct artists being Frankensteined together to form a lumbering mass that should, by all rights, be a complete disaster. This was far from the truth. The fact that their songs slipped in and out of emulations and approximations of the Smiths, Smashing Pumpkins, the Cure and more, yet didn’t become tiresome, is remarkable.

Violens opening for MGMT at 9:30club

Violens had a great sense of knowing what techniques to mine from each and casting them in a mold just different enough to not sound like rarities left on the floor of recording sessions from their forefather artists. The quality with which they emulated the Cure and the Smith’s spiraling, moody musical backdrops laden with powerful vocals was enough to impress. Unfortunately, the broader impression left by their music was less impactful. But their set was solid enough to make me curious to see where the end up in the future.

MGMT bounded on stage with all the typical theatrics of pre-incubated super-stars in the current market. The formula: room darkens, crowd screams in anticipation, MGMT bursts into our lives with massive sound and moody blue lighting. All this was a stark contrast to their casual nature at Bonnaroo, setting up in plain view with few rock-star theatrics and pretensions was refreshing. They were perfectly content letting the music speak. This is one of the first times I found myself preferring an artist’s festival set to their club one.

MGMT at 9:30club DC

The sound was good, well-defined and balanced. Vocals sharp with only a few instances of feedback, appropriately dreamy synths and the drums and bass hit just right. As expected, the true floor-shakers were easy to call: the ebbing and swelling sea of vocals and synths that make up the basis”Time to Pretend,” and the irresistible electro-funk groove of “Electric Feel.” The highlight of the main set was probably “Weekend Wars,” morphing from relaxed acoustic ballad to airily-voiced bridge and finally settling into the galloping, groove-heavy bulk of the song. All the while, growing to a critical mass that never quite reaches relief.

MGMT at 9:30club DC

What disappointed most was how closely they played the set by the numbers. Compared to Bonnaroo, the frequency of funk/psych jam digressions was too few and far between, giving little indication that they weren’t, in fact, amping their recorded output. Their crucial funk grooves, like the guitar solos, felt too robotic and rehearsed, never loose enough to be genuine or even trying to feign at improvisation. Most irritatingly, the good vibes atmosphere projected by the crowd at Bonnaroo was replaced with lots of bro-hemian high-fiving, beer-saluting and fist-pumping, less grooving and dancing and more bone-headed attempts at moshing. But since this show was in DC, there is something to be said for the crowd being as energized and active as they were.

MGMT delivered a great encore, featuring an expansive instrumental prelude to “Kids” that felt like watching an albatross, finally emerging from a small cage and spreading its wingspan in ecstasy and relief. Cap that off with an exuberant and rollicking version of “Kids” and it was enough to make the show worth the trip down from Baltimore. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite salvage the average feel of the night’s performance.

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4 Responses to “MGMT @ 9:30 Club”

  1. Marissa says:

    Nice review! I agree completely that Weekend Wars and Kids were the best of the night. The middle made me yawn a bit, which I wasn’t expecting. Definitely glad I ended up with face value tickets compared to the ones being peddled for $150 or more. Next time I’ll have to see them outdoors.

  2. Simon says:

    Not surprising that this was a let down. Bonnaroo sets are the best set your ever going to see from most bands.

  3. Astara says:

    I was intrigued by your comparison of Metanoia by MGMT to an albatross. I looked up Albatross on the internet and found this poem by Baudelaire.

    The Albatross by Charles Baudelaire

    Sometimes, to entertain themselves, the men of the crew
    Lure upon deck an unlucky albatross, one of those vast
    Birds of the sea that follow unwearied the voyage through,
    Flying in slow and elegant circles above the mast.

    No sooner have they disentangled him from their nets
    Than this aerial colossus, shorn of his pride,
    Goes hobbling pitiably across the planks and lets
    His great wings hang like heavy, useless oars at his side.

    How droll is the poor floundering creature, how limp and weak —
    He, but a moment past so lordly, flying in state!
    They tease him: One of them tries to stick a pipe in his beak;
    Another mimics with laughter his odd lurching gait.

    The Poet is like that wild inheritor of the cloud,
    A rider of storms, above the range of arrows and slings;
    Exiled on earth, at bay amid the jeering crowd,
    He cannot walk for his unmanageable wings.

    — Translated by George Dillon


    see above for original French

  4. [...] their buzz and quick rise to fame, they seem to have 2 effects on people:  complete adoration, or completely unimpressed. i’m in the first category. they may need to work on stage presence, and keeping the energy [...]

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