MGMT w/ Helios Creed & Francis and the Lights
07/16/10 Greek Theater – Los Angeles, CA
Words/Photos by Revered Justito
You know a song is rocking when it is stuck in your head after the first listen. That was me a few summer’s back with “Time To Pretend” by MGMT. Walking the halls at work trying not to mention shooting heroin in Paris as I walked past million dollar execs, I just knew there was something about this Brooklyn based duo. I went to Target, bought Oracular Spectacular and fell in love instantly. The album that was so good Phish named a campground after it at Festival 8; I had finally found the two headed love child of Ween and The Flaming Lips. By this point, you don’t need me to tell you that the bands follow up Congratulations is a giant middle finger to mainstream rock and it’s legion of simple minded fans. For someone like myself (music snob, 31 years aged, addicted to Del Taco and possessing way better music taste than you) the latest and greatest album by Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden is a breath of fresh air more fit for Bonnaroo than KROQ. So on a hot and sticky night in Griffth Park (aka Hipsterwood adjacent) I headed to the Greek Theatre to see for myself what the live MGMT experience was all about.
It would be easy for me to chastise the crowd off the bat. From the kids not old enough to operate a motor vehicle and your typical I <3 Silver Lake yet live in Whittier hipster fucks with lame headbands, neon clothing and those god awful Zeus meets Pocahontas sandals that for some reason are all the rage (breath, run on but I don’t care) the crowd was full of people I look down upon. Instead we are going to rip the nights first band Helios Creed to shreds. What can I say, he was so bad, I wanted to listen to Creed. I must assume that Helios would tell you it’s experimental music, but from what I could gather he is just some d-bag with stolen riffs and a lot of guitar pedals. One song was most of “Nervous Breakdown” by Black Flag, another was a combo of Joy Division, Pink Floyd and Primus on their worst days. At least “Lactating Purple” was short. Even if there was a somewhat decent song in there, it was drown out by far too many effects. Chorus, echo, delay, loops – all at the same time, all sounding like a bunny pooping Chiclets chewing gum into a rusty tin can. It was so bad, I started to wonder if MGMT had intentionally brought bad bands on the road with them as a further effort to be difficult. By dumb luck, I taped Helios last song – an 9+ minute epic called “I Am The Jaw.” You’re in luck folks, because this was the best thing he did all night.
Having already established that I am a music snob and better than you, I would like to brag for just a moment. In 2002, I saw a lil band called Maroon 5 open for O.A.R. While a few locals crashed the gig and rooted their boys on, no one had heard Maroon 5 at this point. At first I was uncomfortable, it was so poppy, and pretty and not me at all. Yet by the end of the set I was hooked and knew the band would one day become massive superstars. Watching Francis and the Lights as main support for MGMT, I had the same exact feelings as I did with my first Maroon 5 show.
The sound is familiar. That pale 80’s English white boy who wishes he was a black Motown artist but got stuck fronting a new wave band. The type of backing band who hit every local show on The Police reunion tour, the guys who still find it funny to Rick-Roll your buddies, yet can f’n play their asses off. I have looked all over the net for the guitar players name (if you know it, please leave as a comment) Guitarist Jake Rabinbach (Thanks Peanut) is the driving force that makes the whole thing work. Great tones and riffs that make you feel as if you are at the big dance at the end of an 80’s teen flick. And the bands vocalist, Francis? Wow, where do we start? Part Adam Ant, part the non-dickwad side of Adam Lambert – this guy is an already larger than life frontman. It will be amazing to see how great he becomes with some fame and adoring fans flocking to shows. His voice is strong – falsetto but very reminicent of white Michael Jackson. He has killer dance moves, and great stage command. Their set was the type of set where each song gets a little bit better and by the end you are pissed that they are giving up the stage to the headliner. When Francis comes back to the Greek a few summers from now as the headliners, make sure you pay this review a visit and admit that I told you so.
Before MGMT had a chance to take the stage, I could feel the war brewing inside the sweaty, sold out venue. On one side of the battles lines was the sold out crowd. Merch lines were longer than beer lines, seat locations were bragging rights/sophmore year status points based on whose Daddy had the better corporate hook ups, and I won’t even mentioned the brace faced gal who called her boyfriend to tell him she would imagine bouncing up and down on his boner when the band played “Kids.” On the other side was MGMT – a band who is fighting for control of their artistic integrity, a band who can not and will not be labeled looking to challenge their massive 21 and under fan base. I for one want to be challenged, and found myself deep in enemy territory when the house lights went down and the band took the stage.
Sitting stage right/middle venue, the group kicked things off with the mellow Congratulations track “I Found A Whistle.” This gave the crowd the perfect chance to continue their conversations over the beautiful song that sounds a lot like The Beach Boys had they been raised in the United Kingdom. The show seemed to be designed to slowly grow in energy song by song “Weekend Wars” “The Youth” and “Flash Delirium” all built upon each other and flowed nicely into the first major victory for the crowd.
“Electric Feel” the second single from Oracular Spectacular (not to mention fave of San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum) was the first time all night the entire venue removed their backsides from the orange stadium seating For the first time in a long time, I cursed the camera in my hands, wanting to move, yet having to keep still in order to avoid those nasty thumbs downs on YouTube. Once “Electric Feel” wrapped, the band unfortunately lost most of the crowd. With the band now warmed up and ready to kick some backside“The Handshake” in my opinion was the musical highlight of the night. Even with the song rocking far harder than on record, with most back down in their seats, it was clear the crowd was only there for the hits.. Psychedelic pop 60’s surf rock-esque songs “It’s Working” & “Song for Dan Treacy” while great failed to connect with the distractable teen angst. “It’s Working” was clearly a bathroom/beer/cell phone break for many. Bored and in line for beer the band managed to sneak a quick victory over the crowd.
“Time To Pretend” satisfied the souls of everyone but me. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this song – but it needed to rock harder. It really felt as if the band held back. Intentional perhaps, while most freaked out, I just wanted it to pound me harder and faster. Did I just say that? You know what I mean.
At the conclusion of the bands breakthrough hit – the crowd was lost and bored yet again. I didn’t want to sit back down for the epic “Siberian Breaks” but I also did not want to be the one asshole who stands in an entire section of people plopped down upon their asses. At well over 10 minutes, most of the crowd was bored before the first verse. With the band performing the massive monster flawlessly – I only grew more impressed with the band. One of my personal MGMT favorite soon followed in form of an ode to a living legend. I get that major record labels are dead and in their final days they often collectively have their heads up their asses. How the hell the “fine” folks at Colombia Records didn’t release “Brian Eno” as the lead single is beyond me. Upon my first listen of a “pre-release leak” this was the song stuck in my head and in fine fashion the band nailed it on that hot muggy night at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
With multiple mentions that the band was performing their last song, the venue went bonkers for the massive hit “Kids.” What I found interesting is that the band doesn’t really play the song at all. While too far back to tell if the band was lip-syncing no actual instruments are played during the set. Instead, Goldwasser & VanWyngarden bounce up and down free of their respective keys and guitars and just act goofy. Perhaps their way of not playing “the hit” or maybe just how they have always intended to give the crowd their money-worth; for most it was the highlight of the night. As fans began to exit the award winning venue at the conclusion, I held out hope for a few more.
After a slight train wreck to start, the band played a spot-on version of the complex number “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters.” For those who remained inside the venue, the band closed with the soft and lush title track “Congratulations.” In a way the song took on a second meaning. Sure kids chatted when not vomiting on each other. Yes hipsters smoked dirt weed and acted cool vs. being cool. But in the end, MGMT won the war. They sold 8,500 tickets in Los Angeles on a Friday night. They spread out their hits in between complicated new material. They knew when to challenge and when to please. Most important, their young fan base bought merch, boogied to the sounds of their youth and ran home to tell all their friends. While for some it may have just been a chance to be tagged in the prom princesses Facebook photo the summer between Junior and Senior year – for many it was a gateway drug. A gateway drug to Meat Puppets, Flaming Lips, Butthole Surfers and Ween. I’ve known for years that “Pepper” and “She Don’t Use Jelly” paved the way for “Time To Pretend” and “Kids.” Where will MGMT go next, I can’t tell you. Perhaps they will never sell 8,500 tickets again, but for those willing to listen, the ticket has been punched and a new generation of intelligent music fans has been born.