The crowd at an MGMT show pose an interesting question. As a paying audience, what do we deserve? I’m referring, to the now years old issue of whether or not MGMT will play ‘Kids’, ‘Time To Pretend’ or ‘Electric Feel’ live. Or if they will just play the swirling psychedelia that makes up the rest of their three albums. I always want to defend them. In my opinion they have every right to play their solid back catalogue of experimental pop, most of which is distinctly less hook led than their biggest hits which in recent years they have neglected to perform all together. Many disagree, feeling that MGMT should always play what ‘the people want’.
This dynamic was very evident at their show in Manchester, but refreshingly MGMT seemed fairly comfortable accommodating everyone. Opening with ‘Alien Days’, one of the stronger tracks from their recent self-titled album, the tone was set by spacey visuals and a foam UFO hovering above the band. The visuals are worth noting actually, being as they looked like cuts from short lived CBBC show Bamzooki, if that reference does anything for you. The set barely hesitated at first, dropping straight from ‘Alien Days’ into ‘Time To Pretend’. Cue iPhone camera usage increasing 100%. ‘Time To Pretend’ is a really fantastic pop song, in fact more than that, it is sort of a generational moment in music. Beyond its ‘soundtrack of my summer 2009’ status, the nostalgic architecture and lyricism of the track are millennial in every sense. People danced a lot.
From here in on the experience became a bit more testing for some. Relaxing into some of their most sprawling numbers - notably the 12 minute plus ‘Siberian Breaks’ - meant that much of the audience began to lull. I saw a man taking his daughter home, a couple both playing candy crush and one woman said ‘funny buggers’. I personally found this section of the show to be very rewarding. I know their discography well and many of their songs divert far from linear structures. Tracing the movements of these more erratic melodies was a pleasure and their live band excelled in translating the album production. The new material fared fairly well under live scrutiny. ‘Plenty More Girls In the Sea’ and ‘Your Life Is A Lie’ in fact sounded better live than on record.
I suppose the show left me with a weird sense of guilt. I felt a bit like a Dad playing prog in the car with his kids. Looking around at the disinterested faces during ‘Siberian Breaks’ I felt a weird sense of responsibility. I loved ‘Siberian Breaks’ but I also loved ‘Electric Feel’. Only when ‘Electric Feel’ was filling the room, everyone was smiling with me. When they finally counted down from five and dropped ‘Kids’, I finally relaxed, nobody could argue they had been sold short. It was a great evening, but the complicated relationship MGMT has with its fanbase is still a bit of a thorn in the side. Yet a thorn they seem to be overcoming with confidence.
Words: Angus Harrison