Words and Photos by Andrew Parks
Okay, so I’m exaggerating. Yes I’ve heard “Kids” and “Time To Pretend” before. Of course I have–those songs were huge singles for a reason. But that’s about it. And not because I’m a prick who refuses to listen to anything that’s popular. I just never got around to hearing MGMT‘s breakthrough album, Oracular Spectacular, plain and simple. (MGMT’s Flaming Lips collaboration, the sinister and rather slamming “Worm Mountain,” was one of many highlights on the Lips’ Embryonic LP last year, though.)
Which brings us to why I bought tickets to MGMT’s barely-publicized “Smirking Worm” set on Sunday night–because music critics are supposed to care about these guys. And, well, I needed to know why; I needed to know how one of Glasslands’ fortunate sons (see also: this flyer) became buddies with Paul McCartney and the sworn enemies of Nicolas Sarkozy.
Their stilted stage presence certainly has nothing to do with it, from a backup band that’s barely integrated to the too-cool-to-care demeanor of frontman Andrew VanWyngarden and his hippie dippie bandmate Ben Goldwasser. (Check out the killer bongos on “It’s Working,” brah.) Maybe they’re nervous guys, or maybe they just doesn’t give a damn. I’ll take the latter, Alex–there’s just no way that MGMT’s too nerdy to nail a tiny friends and family show at Mercury Lounge. After all, these guys are able to actually bed models now; not just sing about fucking them. Speaking of MGMT’s cart-before-the-horse autobiography, “Time To Pretend” became truth in advertising last night as the group failed to seize the song by its balls. (It’s got some massive hooks–why not act like it?)
To make matters worse for their fans, MGMT pulled a Radiohead and refused to play “Kids.” Hey, here’s a better idea than giving people what they want: skipping your best song in favor of your weakest jam yet (“Congratulations,” which is about as anti-climatic as the first time I had sex).
Come to think of it, that might be the point here–given their widely-publicized position as the leaders of Wesleyan’s new school, this could be an elaborate Pop Art prank. It’s doubtful, but maybe the baby crying for attention in “Kids” is MGMT themselves, right down to the way they run through every genre known to man in the four schizo minutes of “Flash Delerium.” Which, by the way, has nothing on the directionless nonsense of “Siberian Breaks,” a track that lacks the tension and release that’s needed to keep a cut going for 10 minutes straight. Seriously…the thing just drifts along until VanWyngarden starts whining about wishing he’d die before he got “sold.”
So there you have it–another self-aware MGMT song about being famous, only they feel guilty about it this time. I think. VanWyngarden refuses to speak up while singing, so he could be talking about anything, really. And, well, as you’ll see in the video clip someone captured last night, it might be time for Columbia to pretend to care about the buzz band they’ve staked their third quarter earnings on. Because if it’s anything like the live renditions from last night, someone’s gonna get fired over this album, a typical we-don’t-give-a-fuck foray into pretentious pap. Except for “Brian Eno.” That track’s worthy of its title because it reminds us why MGMT got popular in the first place–because they’re supposed to be fun.