Friday, 23 May 2008

MGMT at The Astoria

Florence and the Machine thrive on a seething Astoria – the vocals sit somewhere between Laura Marling and Mirah and her persona is a far giddier and more excitable swirling, saccharine affair. Opening with a cover of Cold War Kids’ ‘Hospital Beds’, they play a short set including ‘Girl With 1 Eye’ and ‘Kiss With A Fist’; it’s a delight to the ears and eyes for the half hour it’s on, but it ends at the right moment. Captivating, never whimsical and with a set of lungs to rival Shirley Bassey, it’s certainly an impressive showing. Unfamiliar songs begin to blur into each other too much after a while, as the one (albeit quite lovely) trick begins to tire. All the same, the set is played out by Florence Welch with the energy of a child trying to impress – it’d just sit better in a smaller venue. For now.

MGMT, on the other hand, invoke something completely different. Their debut album 'Oracular Spectacular' is chocka with dazzling hooks; truly one of 2008’s essential albums. It’d be impossible to moniker their songs “to the point”, but they’re certainly a unified call out of hyperbolic-scale electro. Very together, always pushing forward. Live, it’s like this: the conciseness is reduced to an unstructured mess of rehearsal room jamming where the band completely forget that there’s an audience there watching them. The “set” is shorter than the “encore”, the latter being longer in time than the former and consisting of some very strange occurrences – there’s unintroduced songs that feel like they’re being played for the first time, a strange caterwauling noise sporadically making itself known and the general feeling of an overdrawn, pretentious mess of noise. And the weirdest moment yet occurs when the touring members of the band disappear from the stage and ‘Kids’ suddenly starts out of nowhere – funnily enough sounding exactly like the version on the album. It turns into just that, a backing track being played to a still up for it crowd and at the end, the drum machine being politely battered with a guitar solo laid over the top. They keep talking about wanting to “fuck around” and arguably, that’s what they do – the album track plays out with WynGarden and Goldwasser undulating on the floor somewhere. What even is this? Is no-one else wondering whether we’re part of some sort of Beadle’s About 2.0? Everything that could be augmented is, over and over – they run way over their 11pm curfew in fact. But the crowd lap it up, all the same.

Aside from the jam-type mass, ‘Electric Feel’ storms the room, as do ‘Pieces of What’ and ‘The Handshake’. But the fact that they’re sandwiched somewhere in between a 1:9 ratio of killer: filler makes the idea of them bothering with the “songs” feel like a complete waste of time. Even the song, ‘Time to Pretend’, loses its strength with the keys up too loud and the opportunity for a pre-, mid-, in between- and post-song jam wrongly seized yet again. The solos prove uninspiring, cheap and devoid of likeable quirk.

It’s certainly unlike any other live show going but it completely fails to do justice to their excellent album. Credit for having the balls to do something this bizarre but there’s still the overwhelming notion of an endurance test where the audience filters out and only the strongest win. But those who stay until the never ending song ends don’t really win, per se – all they get is a massive sense of excitement when a familiar song makes it structure known. The weirdness is too knowing live, that’s part of the crux – and the self-obsession/overdrawn jam conceit needs to be sorted out for this Brooklyn assortment to prove themselves live, unless festival season somehow manages to force them into a set with a time limit.

There are moments when the audience seem to drift off into an alternate universe only to open their eyes and realise that MGMT are still playing. But don’t let this put you off - there are many positives, like the fact they’re only on album number one (which, once again, is a fantastic record) and like, the nice dress and stuff. Shame about the indulgence, mind.

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