Wednesday, February 13, 2008

MGMT, Yeasayer--Schubas, Chicago, Illinois

Some of you may remember the interview with Jessica Gonyea of OFFICE last month when she mentioned MGMT as a band she just started listening to. I hadn’t heard of them at the time but seemingly right after I hung up the phone this curiously titled act (whose name I’m convinced was picked out by Britt Daniel) started popping up everywhere. First I was flipping through channels and I happened to catch them on Letterman. Then, my brother dialed me up to let me know their single “Time to Pretend” was currently a free download on iTunes. I checked it out, gave it my full stamp of approval, and proceeded to purchase the entire album. This flavor of the month rolled into Schubas this past weekend with Yeasayer for two sold out shows. Yes, two shows. Following a trend I’m not wild about, each Brooklyn band played Schubas twice in the same evening with both sharing opening and closing duties (i.e. MGMT was scheduled to open the first show for Yeasayer and Yeasayer was scheduled to open the second for MGMT.) I made it to the early all-ages show where MGMT was supposed to kick things off.

I’m not sure if the schedule was wrong or what happened but Yeasayer ended up opening the first show (I heard rumblings that MGMT was late to the venue but I can’t confirm this.) I must confess that I didn’t do my homework for Yeasayer. I hadn’t listened to their album nor had I read much about them. My Yeasayer knowledge going in consisted of the collective buzz I had recently been hearing. But they turned out to be a really good band. They have this experimental Man Mannish sound going on with a lead singer (Chris Keating) who is eerily reminiscent of Steve Buscemi. Their set was rather farcical but also pretty awesome with lots of energy mixed in with some weird noises and tribal screams (I thought this YouTube clip captured the spirit of the band pretty well…sound quality isn’t that great because it’s YouTube.) At one point while the band was playing at Minutemen-pace, Keating was banging on the keyboard and bloodied his hand. No worries, the show went on. And he was kind enough to let everyone know how happy they were to be playing with MGMT…..and gave the pronunciation as M-G-M-T. M-G-M-T?! I had been pronouncing them “Management”! Which is it? Can we get an official ruling on this, please?

Yeasayer (From L to R) That guy, this guy, weird guy that sings, weird guy who plays drums.

I didn’t stick around to see how Yeasayer fared for Round 2 at 10pm. They seemed rather spent by the time they finished and Keating begged for clarification from his bandmates that this was in fact their second show. Unfortunately for him it wasn’t but I doubt anyone who came to see them later in the evening was let down (I would love to hear from someone who was at the second group of shows…please feel free to leave any sort of report in the comments.) Their album, All Hour Cymbals, has been out for nearly four months now. They convinced me it’s time to give it a listen.

Between bands I conducted an unscientific survey with the audience on the issue of a band playing two shows in one night (I’ve never been a fan, I’d rather a band just add another show the following night or move to a bigger venue.) The results are as follows:

Me: How do you feel about bands playing two shows in one night?

Guy1: I don’t know, I don’t care, I guess.

Me: Do you feel confident you’re getting the same caliber show you’d be getting if the band was slated to just play one show.

Guy1: I don’t know, sure I guess. Usually it’s smaller bands that do this so they don’t have much of a set list to choose from anyways. Seriously, who cares.

(You know, that’s a pretty decent answer. Unscientific survey has concluded.)

MGMT, now a five-piece, came out with a few of them sporting headbands that were either supposed to channel Jimi Hendrix or John McEnroe. Pick your poison. And I think I figured out why this was an all-ages show. The lead singer of MGMT looks like he’s all of 17. (If you’re not familiar with MGMT, don’t let the Taylor Hanson circa 1997 appearances fool you, they really have blown up this last month. Their album, Oracular Spectacular, is a fantastic blend of ten poppy/funky songs with opening track “Time to Pretend” being the very definition of an instant hit.) I believe they opened up with “Weekend Wars” but my memory is somewhat fuzzy from the bass that was racking my brain. I wasn’t that impressed with their sound at the beginning. They sounded more like some sort of bad 70s stoner rock band. I was expecting to hear some funk, not Foghat. Early on, MGMT’s evaluation wasn’t looking good. Potential problems with punctuality? Check. Great sounding cd not translating well in concert? Check. Hmmm, if they keep going at this pace we may have to demote them to an Assistant MNGR position.

I like this picture of MGMT. One guy goes one way, the other guy goes the other way, and this horse's sayin', "Whadda ya want from me?"

My complaining may have been a bit premature. After playing a few deep cuts from the album and a song or two I didn’t recognize they dusted off the aforementioned hit “Time to Pretend”. Packed full of quirky beats, heavy layered guitars and heroin and super-model ridden lyrics, I have a feeling you’ll be hearing this song on a lot of playlists this summer. But the band sounded strongest when they grooved into “Electric Feel” which had the crowd in a tizzy and seemed to be the first time they matched the polished hipness that is prevalent throughout the record.

In another moment of honesty, I have to fess up that I bailed before the show was over. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, especially since I had yet to hear the “The Youth” which might be my favorite song on the album but other already-made plans beckoned. And yes, I do find it rather cheap when someone writes a review of a show (especially when it’s a negative review) and doesn’t even stay for the entire duration. So, I guess I’m calling the kettle black but I hope this doesn’t come off as too negative of a review. I still think that album is fantastic and I’m sure any less-than-great critique is merely a bump in the road, if not just one man’s opinion. A few weeks back I sent their myspace page to a friend of mine who is in music biz. He commented that he liked the band but didn’t hear many hits and expected Columbia to drop them before their next record. Although I don’t agree with the “lack of hits” assessment, it remains to be seen whether MGMT will strive for relevance or just become a 2008 flash in the pan. Whatever the case, the album that is currently in front of us deserves our attention and praise. Hopefully their live shows will eventually live up to that standard.



Tankboy said...

The flipped headlining slots were intentional and planned from the get-go ... and it's my understanding that you pronounce all of "Management" since that was their name before they shortened it to MGMT.

Alex said...

See, that's what I look for in a comment. Informative and precise. Well done. Any reason for the flip-flop?

Anonymous said...

its pronounced M-G-M-T.. despite once being the management..
they changed their name for legal reasons, and have even said that they prefer M-G-M-T better..

Anonymous said...

well all i know is that at my school if you even say "Have you heard MGMT's song...", pronounced M-G-M-T, kids immediately start screaming and jumping up and down. They would have no idea what you were talking about if you said "Management". However, i was talking to my friend's dad, an avid MGMT fan and he said it was pronounced "management"... and usually he knows what hes talking about... so i dont have an answer for you.

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