Live: MGMT @ Albert Hall, Manchester

Popularity was an unwanted pregnancy for MGMT. After releasing Oracular Spectacular in 2008 they spent two albums running away from their own hits and the bright-eyed pubescent attention they brought. Read the review of MGMT playing Manchester's Albert Hall.
Posted: 22 December 2018 Words: William Baldwin-Pask

MGMT bring disco-bliss, added maturity and at last, a sense of accepting their popularity to Manchester.

Popularity was an unwanted pregnancy for MGMT. After releasing Oracular Spectacular in 2008 they spent two albums running away from their own hits and the bright-eyed pubescent attention they brought. A decade later, they are touring a new album of pop songs cut with the same skill that it took for their first meteoric record but with darker, deeper results. The final night of this tour comes to Manchester’s Albert Hall, which is overflowing with mop-haired, flowery-shirted lads who remember MGMT from the soundtrack to the first FIFA game they owned. One fears that the crowd could wait an hour and a half in silence for ‘Kids’ to come on, but they are in fact thoroughly invested in the new stuff, which should be somewhat of a relief for the Connecticut duo and co on stage. There are still many who are clearly here for the ten-year-old hits that have haunted MGMT. The three-headed monster of ‘Kids’, ‘Electric Feel’ and ‘Time to Pretend’ that dragged these guys to the top of 2008’s charts will no doubt make an appearance tonight. But although these songs have an incendiary effect on the audience, they are not delivered with the same care as the back catalogue nor show the creative depth that MGMT does possess. A handful of tracks from LDA, released earlier this year, come out early to show this. ‘When You Die’ is the perfect performance piece, with a coast-rock rhythm and easy lines for the crowd to bark back like “Go fuck yourself” and “I’m not that nice”, lyrics that seem aimed at a world that has struggled to accept MGMT’s hardening change in sound. ‘James’ showers the room with melodies and disco chords, but there’s enough crunch in the bass to give it a heavier edge. Sandwiched between these songs though is ‘Time to Pretend’, which sounds lazier in its layering and doesn’t seem to enthuse the band members. The place is bouncing, but this is the audience’s making. The quality of new songs stays consistent throughout the night and they are given some great stage and technical attention. During ‘TSLAMP’, an iPhone floats on a giant LED backdrop like a religious symbol, the joke lost on those in the crowd who’ve Instagram-ed the whole evening.  ‘Little Dark Age’ borders on Bauhaus with doom-y Moog keys and the room is filled with red smoke to make the Albert Hall feel even more gothic than usual. Their song choice hits a snag when the subtle brilliance of seven-minute psych tune ‘Siberian Breaks’ from 2010’s Congratulations gets lost in audience chatter. It’s an odd selection, one for the hard-core fans that was always going to be hard to pull off in this setting. But the extended instrumental they follow this with, reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s ‘On the Run’, is mind-blowing, whilst songs like ‘Weekend Wars’ and ‘Of Mice, Birds and Monsters’ make a better impression than their more successful Oracular Spectacular siblings. To be sure, ‘Kids’ and ‘Electric Feel’ are such uncompromising bangers that you can’t not smile and dance to them. Unless you’re MGMT. They try to vary their performances of these songs with extended soloing and middle-eights, yet something sounds missing in the mix – a look at the band’s bored faces suggests it might just be a love of playing them for the thousandth time. But on the basis of the rest of the night, MGMT need not resent their own music anymore. What’s never been clear is what band MGMT want to be. The moodier pop of LDA is the closest they’ve ever sounded to satisfied and this shows in the performance of their new music. More importantly, people are fucking with them again for all the right reasons. Perhaps the most significant incident of the night is when the band plays ‘Me and Michael’. The Italo-esque tribute to friendship has everyone singing under the supervision of a brightly lit disco ball and it is sheer bliss. The band bring a soft toy dog on stage with them to add some extra childish glee, but the irony is that this is a real moment of maturity for MGMT, who have proved they are no longer a three-hit-wonder – they are a band making the pop music they want to make, to the best of their ability, at last happy with the popularity it has purchased. Photo credit: Patrick Gunning For more live reviews from GigList see here

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