MGMT / Virgin Passages @ Birmingham Bar Academy, 3/3/08

My CDX Tips for 2008 are all doing pretty well save for one. I backed Yeasayer to make a splash over here after checking out their debut album and the wad of positive reviews that accompanied it. However, now they’re over here and touring no-one’s paying much attention to them. Their support act on their last US tour, MGMT, on the other hand are generating a right royal buzz with ‘Time To Pretend’ all over daytime radio. First though, I quick mention to the support act. Virgin Passages have hobbled themselves with an awful, awful name but their main obstacles on the night seemed to be outside their control. Their post-rock noodling was marred and muddied by the soundsystem and, with few of their vocal harmonies coming together, I’m guessing they had monitor issues too. After a couple of songs we retreated to the rear of the venue. From there we didn’t hear much improvement, nor did we hear much from front when they left the stage. Still, not every gig can be a blinder, eh?

MGMT, if you’ve not met them yet, are Brooklyn-based duo Andrew Vanwyngarden and Ben Goldwasser (plus touring band) and their stock in trade is slightly experimental rock with trace elements of Klaxons-esque mysticism.

‘Time To Pretend’ gets an early showing with lashings of trouser-shaking bass and its catchy synth line. That bass disappeared for the rest of the night and I found myself missing it – head music is all well and good but something a little more primal never goes amiss.

My highlight of the evening was the mid-tempo, Prince-channelling groove of ‘Electric Feel’ which arrived mid-set and provoked the most head-nodding (by the guys) and hipshaking (by the girls).

However, much of the rest of the set lacked the verve shown on those two songs. In fact by the end of the evening it had become apparent that so far MGMT have three good songs under their belts. The rest is (admittedly reasonably decent) filler that leaves the band only ever a few bars away from another aimless and uninspired wigout. Oh, the interminable wigouts…

Returning for an encore (if hiding behind the speaker stack counts as leaving the stage) of ‘Kids’ the drums were abandoned for a drum machine and there followed an extraordinary show of bare-chested jumping, whooping and larking about, completely at odds with the reserved performance of minutes ago. The essence of the song was shoehorned in around these antics but the constant bass thump was enough to get the front rows to jump about.

So do MGMT justify the hype? Well, on the strength of this performance, no and not by some way. That said, their heads are clearly fizzing with ideas – if they can only decide how best to use them their wilful experimenting could well pay off.

This review was published on Culturedeluxe.

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.