MGMT, Heaven, London

Congratulations are in order

Reviewed,Elisa Bray@Elisabray
Monday 22 March 2010 01:00

Nearly 10 minutes after the lights have been turned up at the end of MGMT's set, the crowd is still persistently chanting "Kids". How could they leave out their biggest hit?

Those that witnessed the Brooklyn band playing festivals in 2008 will recall the crowd singing its catchy synth melody long after their sets finished. That song went on to be the NME's number-one single of the year and, alongside the excellent singles "Time to Pretend" and "Electric Feel", is what brought the band into the indie-pop mainstream.

Not that mainstream was ever on the agenda for the band's core duo Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser whose debut, Oracular Spectacular, so winningly spanned influences of psychedelic rock and electronica. It is a deliberate omission, which makes their point. They claimed that Congratulations, the follow up to their debut album, would be devoid of singles. They're actively trying not to re-create the hits of their debut. Successful they might be but the mainstream is not their calling. Only last week, they admitted to turning down support slots with U2 and Coldplay. "We don't feel like pop stars, we feel like a rock band", Goldwasser explained. "We don't want to play arenas."

When they play "Time to Pretend" tonight, as an encore, sending the crowd into a rapturous frenzy, irony comes to mind. In 2004, when the pair wrote the song's fantasy of becoming famous rock stars ("This is our decision, to live fast and die young/ We've got the vision, now let's have some fun"), they were naive college kids.

Their hit "Electric Feel" is another highlight, with VanWyngarden just about achieving the falsetto despite being unwell. Then instead of "Kids" we get the 12-minute "Siberian Breaks", from Congratulations. It's so long that when there is an instrumental break in the middle, the crowd applauds the end of the song. But the listener who stays attentive reaps rewards. Veering in different directions at least five times, on a journey through late Sixties and Seventies psychedelic rock, recalling Love's "Forever Changes", it is one of their most ambitious tracks to date. An airy keyboard riff, meticulously performed by Goldwasser, transports us into the weird, intoxicating world of the duo.

The album's title track, "Congratulations", played last, is simplistic by contrast. It's something of a letdown for a crowd roused by "Time to Pretend", but the juxtaposition is clever; the wry pat on the back an answer to their hit single.

Alternating new songs with old, it's clear MGMT have almost done away with choruses altogether. It is testing for an audience, for whom this is the first listen, and there's an argument that a little crowd-pleasing should be on the bill when fans are paying to hear their favourite songs. Still, you feel that no matter how hard MGMT try to eschew the mainstream, they'll always have a place in the hearts of their many loyal fans.

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