Electro-dance-pop group MGMT packs Avila Beach concert

As the sun set over Avila Beach Resort, MGMT began to play hits off of their previous release, Oracular Spectacular. Thousands danced to "Electric Feel", "Time to Pretend" and the show's culminating song, "Kids".

MGMT played for a nearly sold-out crowd at Avila Beach Resort Friday night. The concert followed criticism from fans and music critics alike in regards to MGMT’s lack of stage presence and reputation for leaving out certain fan favorites from its performances.

The electro-pop band’s most recent release, Congratulations, has had a hard time gaining approval. Some critics have said the band is actively trying to alienate some of its audience with the artistic direction the band has taken.

If the crowd’s reception of the band’s set on Friday was any indication, MGMT may finally be winning over skeptics of their sophomoric release.

Regardless of whether “Congratulations” will produce the amount of success of the band’s previous album, “Oracular Spectacular,” at least a portion of Friday’s crowd seemed to have gotten what it wanted. Fans near the stage danced for most of the night singing lyrics to the songs they knew. For some, this was the first time they had heard the songs from their most recent release, which came out earlier this year.

Matt Kubat, a 26-year-old San Luis Obispo resident, waited to hear the band’s new songs until Friday’s concert. He said he wanted to be able to make up his mind about the new material a lot of his friends had been denouncing.

“It’s a lot easier to make a good sound if it isn’t live,” Kubat said. “I didn’t think they were going to be that good live based on what I’ve heard. I’m probably going to get the CD now. There’s a lot of throwback sounds; it had that ‘60s, on-the-beach feel to it.”

Kubat said he has been listening to MGMT for a while and that he finds the band’s new sound hard to articulate.

“When people ask what kind of music they are, it’s really hard to say,” he said. “I kind of like that.”

While it may be difficult to describe, MGMT’s music can be described as something fans can dance to. And for almost the entire duration of the show, that’s what more than half of the roughly 5,000 people in the crowd did.

MGMT had almost everyone near the stage dancing and screaming, whether it was word-for-word with their more popular hits or to the songs some had never heard before. During parts of the show, people were hoisted up on their friends’ shoulders to get a better view of the band.

Despite the occasional utterance from the crowd for MGMT to play “Kids” or any of the other songs from its 2008 release “Oracular Spectacular,” the crowd didn’t shout out anything at the band besides backing vocals to the songs they knew.

Fallon Evenson, a sophomore at Cuesta College and Avila Beach resident, said she was hoping MGMT wouldn’t make a complete u-turn from its set at Coachella and just play the hits everyone wanted to hear.

“They blew my expectations out of the water. I thought it was going to be what everyone else wanted, the hits,” Evenson said. “The way they did it was so much better because they played what they wanted and it translated to us. What made them happy, made us happy. That’s pretty much what music is about, sharing thoughts and feelings and experiences.”

But after opening the show with mainly new material, it started to happen. “Play ‘Kids,’” someone yelled from the crowd.

The band received some heat for not playing its best-known song at its performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival this year, a move that some reviews have criticized as being detrimental to the band members’ career.

As some of the crowd walked away from MGMT’s Coachella performance, they responded with “At least we know who our real fans are now.”

The question of whether MGMT should have played more from Oracular Spectacular will remain up for debate. But perhaps more pressing is the question of whether die-hard fans and casual listeners are able to embrace MGMT’s newest material.

BJ, a local radio disc jockey for San Luis Obispo’s New Rock 107.3 calls himself a “casual listener” of MGMT and said he was not too impressed with the band’s new material. Like many, he had heard the poor reviews about the band’s stage performances. As a DJ at a station that still gives two of the hits from Oracular Spectacular regular rotation, he said he felt an obligation to see the band.

“I don’t think their concert is for the casual listener,” BJ said. “I would rather just listen to it on the CD, to be honest.”

BJ recalled that as soon as they opened the gates to the concert, fans ran to be the ones nearest the stage.

“That was pretty cool,” he said.

For those fans who stayed until the end of MGMT’s encore, there wasn’t any song left unplayed — old or new. MGMT went through all three of its releases, playing nearly every song it’s ever written and culminating the show with its dance sensation, “Kids.”

At that point, frontman Andrew VanWyngarden and keyboardist Ben Goldwasser ditched their instruments, grabbed microphones and danced along with the crowd to their biggest hit, immediately turning Avila Beach Resort into one giant dance party.

Evenson was in the middle of the crowd for the entire show. Even though she enjoyed the entire show, “Kids” was the highlight, she said.

“Everyone there shared something. Everyone shared the appreciation for their music,” she said. “You could look a stranger in the face and smile and it was accepted; it felt natural. We were all on the same page for once.”

Whether or not MGMT came to Avila thinking it had something to prove after its recent reviews, the fans’ appreciation of the concert didn’t go unnoticed by the band.

VanWyngarden took multiple opportunities to thank the audience for coming out and for the applause after each song. Unlike the band’s performance at Coachella, he didn’t tell everybody to “please go out and buy our album.”

While the last song of the show may have been the highlight, there were other moments that stuck out as well.

When bassist Matt Asti, started playing the few opening notes to “Electric Feel,” that the crowd went nuts. There wasn’t a single person in front of the stage whose body wasn’t moving. The crowd didn’t stop moving until the last beat of the last song of the night, and the smirk on VanWyngarden’s face seemed to show MGMT was happy for the approval.MGMT’s performance might not have sold everyone on “Congratulations.” It did, however, give an opportunity for fans and critics to see a band whose popularity is growing and make up their own minds about whether the band can do more than put out a successful album full of catchy songs.

  • Anonymous

    I went to the concert and I have to say I was pretty disappointed. Half of their songs were slow, boring, and you couldn’t even hear the lyrics. Of all the concerts I have been to this may have been the worst. They had very little stage presence and even when they played their hits I found myself wondering why it wasn’t good. I probably should have done some acid or blazed before hand, the people who had seemed to be having a much better time. And don’t get me wrong I like MGMT and hope they continue making music, but they definitely need to work on their performance if I am going to see them again.

    • John McCullough

      Thanks for the comment,
      Sorry you didn’t enjoy yourself.

  • david

    yes the show started off slow and noone really knew the first songs but thats what artists do they play off their latest album. the middle and end of the show were great tho, amazing encore.

    it did not seem like they wanted to play their most popular songs. for this to be the first show on tour they didnt seem to happy to have to play those songs even tho everyone wanted them to. but then again they never really wanted to start a band and get famous either.

  • Will

    This article forgets to mention that Tame Impala opened for MGMT with their first American performance. They were momentous, and complimented MGMT’s psychedelic sounds perfectly with their own sort of rock-groove twist.
    As for MGMT’s performance, it seemed like much of the crowd missed the point. MGMT has admitted to being misunderstood through more “danceable” songs like Kids and Electric Feel. For those not familiar, the heart of Oracular Spectacular shone through in its second half. Their sophomore album, Congratulations, is a sandbox of musical color with massive amounts of technical and emotional depth. MGMT’s performance at Avila on Friday reflected their less-energy, more-music attitude, even if it was less danceable than what the crowd expected.
    To conclude, despite the remarkable music, Friday night consisted of two performances that were “never heard.”

    • JohnMcCullough

      That’s right it did Will. The story was on MGMT so the opening band wasn’t all that important. You’re right though, I probably should have at least mentioned them. Good description of the show.

  • Anon

    MGMT’s music is fantastic, but the band has zero stage presence live. I wouldn’t have minded that so much if the sound mix were better, but it was fairly distorted. Or maybe that was just my ears?

    Also, I don’t think “electro-dance-pop” can be used to describe anything by MGMT apart from their three hit songs. All of their other songs are a mix of psychedelic and prog rock, along with some indie rock elements that I’m not entirely familiar with.

    The opening band Tame Impala was really good, also very psychedelic, but with a bit more hard rock edge.

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