Published Dec 10, 2013MGMT released four monster hits on 2007's Oracular Spectacular. Those songs — "Kids," "Time to Pretend," "Electric Feel" and "Weekend Wars" — still stand as some of the best pop of the past decade, and, as last night's show at Metropolis in Montreal showed, still resonate with hordes of fans. As for MGMT themselves, they have deliberately stopped writing pop music and spent the last six years doing what they want to do. So, what do MGMT want? If the duo's show at Metropolis was any indication, they get their kicks from playing long, mid-tempo jams with no hooks while the audience waits quietly for one of the hits.
The first two songs of their show set the tone for the rest of the night. They opened with "Alien Days," a sprawling tune that marches forward as if the chorus is right around the corner, only to end without any payoff. The crowd were excited to see the band on stage, but the cheers and excitement were muted compared to what happened next. MGMT unleashed "Time to Pretend," and Metropolis overflowed with joy.
It went on like this for the next ninety minutes. MGMT would kick into psychedelic jam mode for a couple songs, alienate the crowd, and then bring back the joy with another hit. This wasn't exactly a problem: MGMT and their backing band played with plenty of musical competence and had some genuine moments of rock awesomeness. "Song for Dan Treacy" from 2010's Congratulations dropped with blistering intensity, and their cover of Faine Jane's "Introspection" gave the guitar players in the shadows a chance to shine.
But when it came time for a hit, frontman Andrew VanWyngarden delivered it with unmasked boredom. Imagine a concert hall with thousands of fans jumping up and down and singing along to "Kids," while the person at the font of the room looks like he'd rather be undergoing dental surgery. Or, like he'd rather break up the song by playing a couple notes on his keyboard for five minutes, which is exactly what he did.
Here's the thing about going psychedelic: it doesn't have to mean forsaking listenability. Some of the best bands of all time are ones that combined experimental music with a rock-solid pop sensibility. The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus" is one of the weirdest songs ever written, and yet everyone reading this right now can hum the chorus. In forty years, will anyone remember the tune to "Alien Days"?
If MGMT are tired of playing their hits, then why make those songs the pillars of their setlist? Why not trust the material they love and bring the audience along for the ride? This will have to happen if MGMT want a long career, because right now, the band and their fans alike are stuck, albeit for different reasons, on those four hits.