18 Jun 2010: Riviera Theater Chicago
Selling out the Riviera Theater in what seemed like a heartbeat is no small feat during the age of a recession but MGMT pulled it off easily. Despite the large tornado-like storm sweeping through the city and causing escalading property damage and tree carnage, fans were outside lining up as early as four hours before the band went on. Braving the weather, these devotees were part of an early scene of people who knew the words to all of MGMT’s songs by heart and couldn’t wait to sing along. They also were taking part in a certain indie hipster scene and reveling in that moment.
After putting out two full-length releases of anthemic party hits, MGMT has decided to recently do something a little more adventurous. With 2010’s Congratulations, they’ve created a psychedelic pop paradise. It has catchy hooks but the songs are longer and require an earnest listening with added bridges to make them each their own epic opus. It’s transcendent stuff and unlike anything else currently on the music scene. At the same time, there’s a definite nod to many glam and psychedelic bands, the most obvious one being Brian Eno, of course.
Touring on this album may have proved tricky, but MGMT adeptly layered the setlist with songs from the new album with the party hits of days past. This kept the crowd happy and dancing, satisfied to hear their favorites while being increasingly open to new musical horizons. It was clear from the dancing, clapping, and sheer amount of people huddled at the foot of the stage to hear the band play that their affections remained steadfast.
To be clear, Congratulations is a masterpiece. “Song for Dan Treacy” appeared early on with it’s quirky pop appeal sandwiched between “Pieces of What” and “Electric Feel”. MGMT followed this song up with an almost jarringly heroic rendition of “Of Moons, Birds, & Monsters” with sprawlingly loud guitar effects to keep it interesting.
Soon after, the band was back with “Flash Delirium”; perhaps their most catchy single off the new album. The video alone for this song is a journey into a land of hazard with regal parties and snakes. Like the song, it’s not exactly clear how the band’s chords move from point A to point B as if a logical progression doesn’t quite exist. This only strengthens the song’s energy, however, as if by magic one is transported to new exciting realms of music. It’s something you have to listen to in order to truly appreciate but clearly its idiosyncrasy is an asset.
Before an awestruck audience, “It’s Working” demonstrated an equal sense of ability in terms of songwriting with a keen sense of emotional questioning within the lyrics and a metaphoric honesty. The song traveled to new heights live with the bandmates joining lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden while singing emphatically the crescendo lyrics: “It’s working in your blood which you know is not the same as love. Love is only in your mind and not your heart.”
“Weekend Wars”, a previous single familiar to many and classic crowd favorite was next with a much more emphasized reeling guitar. “Time to Pretend” and “Kids” were received with loud satisfaction as well later on in the set. “The Handshake” showed a return to an intensity seen previously in the set with “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters”. However, nothing should diminish the sense of beauty of other new tracks like the wistful “I Found a Whistle” or the hilariously entertaining “Brian Eno”.
Perhaps the pinnacle of the set was surprisingly “Siberian Breaks”. The vocals and instrumentation live emphasized the best bridges and progressions of the songs. It created an effect that felt like drifting off to sleep in the middle of the best afternoon of your life with molecules slowly and magically dissolving all around you. The length of the song works to its advantage here with the effect that one can actually hold onto all of the magic moments that are woven into a fabric of one lifetime.
In terms of stage presence, the main pair took the front of the stage with VanWyngarden singing and playing his guitar stage center and Ben Goldwasser stage right playing keyboards and providing some lush backing vocals. The band was supported with three additional bandmates playing drums, keyboard, bass, and other percussion. There was a definite tightness to the way the band played with all of the instruments, making the songs as solid and triumphant as they are on album.
The 90 minute set also had a sense of flow overall with few interruptions for banter. VanWyngarden appeared modest and humble, asking the crowd if people were having fun and if they liked the new songs. He even thanked his fans for applauding loudly enough for an encore even though the band was deserving of all of their accolades, including a group of several members chanting the band’s name “M-G-M-T” from the balcony mid set.
Though the band did not fill space between songs with banter, their occupancy on stage was heightened visually by cinematic projections that filled the space behind them. Visuals varied and tended to fit the song with shapes and abstract lines at some points, waiting crowds at others, and famous photos of Brian Eno during his dedication song. The projections helped to engage all senses and make seeing MGMT a more complete experience.
One could not deny by the end of the night the sense of maturity in a band that started out five years ago with straight forward hits and have ventured forth into new musical territories both fulfilling and strange. To see it all wrapped up across the history of the band’s music into one setlist was something enchanting to witness. Even further, to be able to hear the new songs that all contain a rich appealing madness brought to a live fruition made for an immensely spectacular night of music.