MGMT is one of those bands who seem to manage to be successful in spite of themselves. Propelled quickly into the mainstream by a few huge hits on their first album, 2007’s Oracular Spectacular, the psychedelic pop duo found themselves playing large venues to sold-out crowds. The band’s response was to go more experimental with their follow-up, 2010’s Congratulations, and to veer off even further with their third album, 2013’s MGMT. These records showed a pair of highly creative and capable musicians following their muse, but unfortunately failed to capture the imagination of the listening public. The band’s fourth album, Little Dark Age, released in February, attempts to bridge that gap, with songs that return to some of the band’s pop roots while still maintaining the sound that makes MGMT unique. In this, it is mostly successful, resulting in the most immediately accessible recordings the band has released in years. Fortunately, their audience has stuck with them, so when they came to The Anthem last week, they were still able to pack in a massive crowd.
The band opened the show with the title track to the new record, a dark, 80s-inspired synthpop track with an anthemic chorus that serves as a of the centerpiece of the album and followed it with the more upbeat sounding (even if equally dark lyrically) “When You Die.” The core band – frontman and guitarist Andrew VanWyndarden and keyboardist Ben Goldwasser, largely obscured by his instruments – took the center stage position, flanked by the supporting musicians needed to fill in their sound for the live show. The instrumentation meant that the band was largely static in their places on stage, but they did their best to make up for this with an extensive set of videos and projections set to accompany each of the songs.
Of course, there were certain songs that the band knew that the audience was there to hear, and they didn’t wait too long to get into them, playing “Time to Pretend” next. While most of the set focused on the new record (with all of the songs but two from it making an appearance), the band worked in just enough older tracks to keep it grounded for those who needed something familiar. Only one track each made an appearance from Congratulations (the title track) and MGMT (“Alien Days”). But of course the band played “Electric Feel,” and ended the main set with “Kids” transitioning into a cover of Limahl’s “The Never Ending Story.” After a new song, “Hand It Over,” they closed the night with one older deep cut, “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters” from Oracular Spectacular.
Opening the show was experimental electropop musician Matthew Dear. It’s been quite some time since Dear has released a new album under his own name (his more recent focus being on instrumental techo released under the alias Audion), but his show and his release of several singles last year (“Wrong With Us,” “Modafinil Blues,” and “Bad Ones”) hopefully mean it won’t be too long until we have something new from him.