When I strode into The Anthem for the MGMT show, I felt like I was boarding a new ride at Disney World. Sure, I knew I was in for an immersive experience, but did I have any idea what that experience would entail? Nope, not a clue. After all, this is MGMT we’re talking about—the whimsical Wesleyan alums whose music videos have involved things like animatronic bears, hot dogs that turn into fish, and hyperbolic tributes to ’80s goth rock. My mind was open, but I was anticipating an adventure.
It turns out that, for better or for worse, there were no animatronic bears onstage that night. Nor did Andrew VanWyngarden sing into a microphone adorned with a plastic bat while sporting eyeliner and a Robert Smith haircut. Yet an abundance of magical things did happen. A man named Matthew Dear demonstrated a loving relationship with his synthesizer. Ben Goldwasser sang the lyric “When you’re small, you can’t walk down the hall” with beautiful sincerity. VanWyngarden played with a potted plant. And the music was otherworldly— every single song, from the classic Oracular Spectacular hits to the Little Dark Age tracks to more obscure, psychedelic stuff. Yes, I thought as I mouthed the lyrics to “Time to Pretend” from the photographers’ pit; this is the MGMT concert I envisioned in high school.
Matthew Dear was the opening act. When looking him up before the concert, I read that “Depending on whom you ask, Matthew Dear is a DJ, a dance-music producer, an experimental pop artist, a bandleader.” This is the most apt way to sum up the artistic role he played that night. His music was undoubtedly strange, but that’s not an insult at all—there was a cleverness behind the chaos. The spacey electronic sounds he created sounded like they were made for a hip sci-fi film. Some segments of his show (each of his songs was long and winding) were club-ready house tunes; others vaguely resembled Hans Zimmer’s score for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The crowd dug it.
Dear’s dance moves were certainly memorable. Multiple times, he extended his arms like a bird in flight and spun around, which the fans adored. Yet the most important fixture of the set was his synthesizer—a clunky, wire-laden thing that looked like it was from another era. During the set, Dear seemed to regard the instrument as a dear friend. Sometimes he wandered away from it while singing passionately, but he always came back around to it, pulled by the special chemistry they clearly shared. When he bent over it and played it with abandon, there was no denying that he was in his element. I would gladly watch a film with Matthew Dear and his synth as the main characters.
After Dear’s set ended, the wait for MGMT seemed like an eternity. Multiple times, I saw a venue employee who looked suspiciously like VanWyngarden and wondered if the band wasn’t onstage yet because he was doing some kind of undercover business, though I soon realized it was a false alarm. When the lights finally went down, the excitement in the room was palpable. The majority of the audience, including myself, had imagined this show for years; our moment was about to come.
Soon, the stage was aglow in blue lighting. After a silence full of promise, one of MGMT’s touring musicians walked out in a cape, his face in shadow. He played a Zeppelin-esque tune on his synth as one by one, the rest of the band’s members walked out. VanWyngarden and Goldwasser were last. When they had reached their designated positions—Goldwasser’s behind a massive synth stand, VanWyngarden’s at the mic—they began the well-chosen trifecta of songs that started the show.
During “Little Dark Age,” the title track from their latest album, VanWyngarden’s voice shimmered even more than it did on the studio version, sounding lighter and smoother. The song is poppy enough to mesh with the first half of Oracular Spectacular, but it has the slightly ominous vibe of many of the band’s later songs—a fantastic combination. “When You Die,” the second Little Dark Age single, was next. VanWyngarden’s nonchalant demeanor was well suited for the song, which pairs a lighthearted tune with menacing lyrics like “Don’t call me nice again/Don’t you have somewhere to be at 7:30?” Third was “Time to Pretend”—that beloved satirical theme song for characters who go wild upon finding themselves in “the prime of [their] life.” As larger-than-life visuals swirled on the giant screen behind the band, a wave of joy swept over the room. Sure, the song’s jubilance was meant to be ironic, but who could blame anyone for being caught up in the melody?
Throughout the night, Goldwasser and VanWyngarden didn’t stray far from their initial spots onstage, but different performers have different styles, and theirs shouldn’t be mistaken for indifference. Their passion was evident at every point in their set, which was fairly comprehensive. A standout number was “When You’re Small,” an acoustic ballad in which Goldwasser takes the lead. With simple lyrics about feeling powerless, it’s an irrepressibly sad song, but there was an understated beauty in the way Goldwasser stepped into the spotlight and sung with such tenderness. Also moving was “Me and Michael”—a song that was originally “Me and My Girl,” but edited at the last minute to make it less “boring,” thus turning it into the most ethereal, intentionally ambiguous ode to male friendship one could imagine. The clear winner of the night, though, was the “Kids/NeverEnding Story” mashup near the end of the show. Which moment was the most heartwarming—VanWyngarden dramatically hoisting a potted plant into the air, Goldwasser bobbing his head to the beat, the candid smiles the guys shared in the middle of the song, or the mere notion of the band covering the soundtrack to such a lovable ‘80s classic? It’s impossible to say.
By that point, MGMT had played all their major hits, but they weren’t done yet. Their final gift was “Of Moons, Birds, & Monsters.” With no traditional chorus or verses, it wasn’t your typical closer—but MGMT isn’t your typical band, and somehow there was more joy to be found in singing “Why’d you cut holes in the face of the moon base?” than in any catchy refrain. When the band sent us off with the song’s epic concluding instrumental, surely every one of us had that fabled “electric feel.”