MGMT at the 9:30 Club: Perfectly Good at Being Bad

Andrew VanWyngarden, left, and Ben Goldwasser of the trendy Brooklyn group.
Andrew VanWyngarden, left, and Ben Goldwasser of the trendy Brooklyn group. (By Jon Bergman)
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The quintet's bio claims, "Some songs we wrote just because we wanted to learn how to be really bad within a certain genre." Their hit song turns on the phrase "we were fated to pretend." And their ability to play musical instruments can be charitably described as limited. So naturally, Brooklyn's MGMT is white-hot at the moment.

Fresh from a free hometown show from which thousands of fans were reportedly turned away, MGMT played the sold-out 9:30 club Monday night, managing within the space of an hour to look and sound both utterly incompetent and completely catchy.

Leaders Andrew VanWyngarden (lead vocals, guitar) and Ben Goldwasser (vocals, keyboards) were supported by conventional guitar-bass-drums backing. Borrowing liberally from T. Rex, the Moody Blues and the Incredible String Band, the dippy "4th Dimensional Transition" and the plodding "Metanoia" sounded as though they came from a spaced-out band too unpolished to play a junior-high talent show, while "Pieces of What" would have embarrassed Britny Fox. All of which made MGMT's best songs sound even better: "Time to Pretend" was a trashy pout, heir to the tradition of squiggly synth-rock throwaways. "Kids" pulsed with a decadent swoop, and the pseudo-disco of "Electric Feel" was a near-perfect, dance-like-a-doofus Bee Gees pastiche.

Yet by the time the crowd had drained onto V Street, MGMT already seemed like pretenders. The band's ineptitude -- so frustrating 30 minutes before -- seemed barely irksome. The choruses of the best songs -- resonating wonderfully a short time ago -- were mysteriously hard to recall. If MGMT can fill half the 9:30 this time next year, it will be a minor miracle.

-- Patrick Foster

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