MGMT @ The Greek

21 07 2010

Last weekend we went to LA’s famous Greek Theatre to see MGMT. Let me start by saying, the venue is amazing. Being my first time the experience was fantastic. There is a picnic area outside where you can hangout prior to the show. If you plan accordingly you and some friends can eat and drink (and be merry) until show time. The only catch: no food or drink inside… so finish it all or, in our case, park close by so you can unload come show time. Once inside, the atmosphere is really cool. It’s one of those spaces that’s not too big but large enough to accommodate the crowds typical of big name acts. What really makes it appealing is that it’s completely open-air. Plus, the entire venue is at the foot of Griffith Park so it’s surrounded by tall trees that create a canopy along the perimeter.

As for the show itself, I must say I was completely underwhelmed. Surprisingly, despite being an ex-NYer this was actually my first time seeing MGMT (who currently reside in Brooklyn). Perhaps it was the timing but they just do not put on a good live show. After much thought I attribute it to 3 factors:

1. 80% of the audience is there to see them play their 3 HUGE singles from their first album, Oracular Spectacular. Which, they seem to want to put behind them entirely. Even with their newer material from their recent release Congratulations, the enthusiasm was lacking. In fact, when it came time to play “Kids”, they simply pressed the play button on an instrumental track and sung the vocals while the rest of the band threw random “souvenir” items (drum sticks, water bottles, towels) into the audience.  This same, barely interested, audience was quick to “beat the traffic” as soon as they heard each of the 3 songs. The attendance dropped by about 25% at the conclusion of “Kids”, which they closed the set with. They actually put on a pretty long encore and seemed to have a lot of fun with it. Which, got me thinking that maybe they use that portion of the show to connect with their more appreciative audience.

2. Their music is the type that mimics the album note by note. Because of that, it lacks that fresh feel that you supposed to get with a live performance. Although I’ve been to many other shows that do the same, this was worse than usual. It took me a while to figure out why but I think I finally determined that it’s mostly because of their instrumentation. Meaning, they have a lot of instruments/voices playing in the same or similar register occupying the same frequency or sonic space. On the album this is combated by some excellent mixing but in the live environment it doesn’t seem to translate as well.

3. This is more personal and connected to factor #1 but I think it’s valid nonetheless. To have that many concertgoers essentially sitting on their hands for everything but their favorite songs or even talking amongst themselves about seemingly everything but the show tends to heavily dilute the experience, not just for the band but for the rest of the audience. Unfortunately, crowd mentality being so effective really has a negative effect in this situation, often killing the entire momentum of the show. I understand that audiences are not always going to be 100% engaged and perhaps that’s as much the fault of the act as the individual but it nevertheless has an impact on the total experience… unfortunately for me.

Now having said that, there were some real high points. I own their new album but have had a tough time connecting to it. Perhaps it’s because it represents a large departure from their first album. I would liken the sound to more vintage electro-pop rock like David Bowie, Brian Eno/Roxy Music or even David Byrne. With this one it’s also a little more acoustic, which they blend nicely with some great surf-rock sensibilities. These two styles are a big change from their debut work but that’s not to say that they are better or worse, just different. What was nice about this show was how I was able to hear this material in a new context and it actually comes off way better than I had given it credit for. In that sense, the show was a complete success.

As a side note, they have a song called “Brian Eno”. It’s probably one of the better tunes form the new album. However as I was hearing it live, i couldn’t help but look around and think that 80% of that audience has no idea who Brian Eno is or how big a contributions he has made to the music community. Putting my snobbery aside, here is actual footage of them playing “Brian Eno” at The Greek. It’s a cool song and this video/sound quality is pretty good considering the source.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy seeing them play their biggies, “Electric Feel” and “Time To Pretend”.  Check out the footage of “Time To Pretend”:

I know many of you must be curious what this lack-luster performance of “Kids” was like… check out HERE.


More info on The Greek Theatre

Official Site of The Greek Theatre

More info on MGMT

More info on Oracular Spectacular

More info on Congratulations

More info on Brian Eno



8 04 2010

AIR is the French duo consisting of Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel. They play downtempo electro pop that is really laid-back and despite being mostly electronic it’s very organic sounding with real appeal to the analog snob. One thing that I particularly like about them is that they have both instrumental and vocals tunes, with the instrumentals usually being the standouts… well, in my mind. However, there are numerous exceptions to that. Some of the vocal stuff is really good like “The Vagabond” which features Beck on lead vocals. The duo is a very interesting format with a unique dynamic and these guys are no exception. Nicolas plays guitars, including bass and provides vocals too. While Jean-Benoît plays all the keyboard instruments and contributes vocals. Another thing I really like about these guys is that they are quite fond of music from the 70’s and are also very particular about using only vintage gear. Because they are just a duo, essentially everything they do is  an overdubbed studio project. It’s a lot like Walter Becker and Donald Fagan with Steely Dan. It’s that same principal but with a new electric groove and modern attitude. Their first release was a very cool little EP called Premiers Symptoms in 1997. Then the following year they released a full length album called Moon Safari that was phenomenal. They have made six other albums since then, all with a few excellent songs among them but the first two releases remain to be their best work. In addition to their own albums, they have done music for films. Director Sofia Coppola must really like them because not only did she ask them to do all the music for The Virgin Suicides, she used a song from one of their albums in Lost In Translation.

I really like this simple video for the opening track of Moon Safari, called “La Femme D’Argent”. This is probably the best song on this album and perhaps one of the best from their entire catalog.The album version is like 7 minutes long but this version is slightly abbreviated.

Below is an official video produced for a live performance. The song is “Talisman” also off Moon Safari.   Despite being just a duo, they bring around a small band for live gigs. The performances are extremely well replicated versions of the album material with some extra (but not overdone) improvisation and perhaps some fresh dynamics.

This next song is the tune used in Lost In Translation. It’s originally from their 2004 release Talkie Walkie. The song is called “Alone In Kyoto”. This is a great live video that is also of very high quality. It’s cool to see how they recreate songs like this live.

More info on AIR

AIR’s Official Site

All their music on Amazon

More on Steely Dan

A few more AIR songs to check out:

The Vagabond (featuring Beck)

Alpha Beta Gaga

Playground Love

Kelly Watch the Stars


J’ai Dormi Sous L’eau

Le Soleil Est Près De Moi

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