featuring Matthew Dear
March 16, 2018 @ The Orpheum Theatre
By: Spencer LaChance
The show started with electronic musician, Matthew Dear, founder of the legendary electronic label, Ghostly International. I’m a big fan of a lot of Ghostly artists, so I was intrigued and excited to see the label founder live, having only listened to one of his songs prior to the show. I wish he had played that one song (“Pawn in Their Game”) because it’s a lot better than any of the songs he played that night. Instrumentally, his set was pretty cool with a lot of interesting synth work over driving beats that were easy to vibe to. However, the vocals were hard to get behind. They were very strange and half of the time, he was just shouting random words and noises. He certainly does not have the pop sensibilities that MGMT does and while watching the crowd during his performance, you could see the disparity. There was a lot of talking and ~time spent looking at phones~ during his set. I really wanted to like his performance, but it ended up being a disappointing start to a disappointing evening.
MGMT started their set with a bang, playing “Little Dark Age,” the lead single from their new album. At least, it should’ve been a bang. I was dancing my ass off to this song the night before, but at the venue, I felt no urge to do so. The music sounded right, but Andrew VanWyngarden’s vocals had nowhere near the character and energy they have on the album. The powerful, haunting vocals are one of my favorite parts of the song, yet they were completely missing from the live version. This feeling of disappointment lingered through “When You Die” and “Time to Pretend” (which is arguably my favorite song of theirs). Before the show, if you told me that they would start with these three songs, I would’ve been ecstatic, but it was not the explosive opening that it should’ve been.
Next, they started playing more low-key cuts which sounded a lot better to me since VanWyngarden’s soft vocals better matched those on the studio recordings. He sang “She Works Out Too Much” while riding a stationary bike as snippets of vintage workout tapes played on the screen behind the band. Then, for “When You’re Small,” the lights dimmed and Andrew and Ben moved to the front of the stage to play smaller versions of their instruments (guitar and piano respectively). This was the only song where Ben took lead vocals and it sounded great. At this point in the show, I had gotten over my initial disappointment and was starting to get into the groove of things.
Visually, the show was amazing. Each song had its own set of stunning visuals displayed on two big screens behind the band along with plenty of lights and smoke dancing across the stage. In addition to Ben and Andrew, there was another guitar/keyboard player, a bassist, and a drummer surrounded by Greek columns and palm leaves. Every member of the band was dressed in a solid-colored garb of some sort. The bassist and keyboardist wore berets and the latter even had a cape too. They really fit the aesthetic of the new album well.
“Electric Feel” was another song that I wish had more punch, but the more chill “James,” “TSLAMP,” and “Congratulations” that followed were very satisfying. “Me and Michael” was a highlight of the evening. It was impeccably performed and featured disco-themed visuals with a disco ball that lit up the entire theater. They closed their set with a disappointing rendition of “Kids.” After the keyboard solo, the song transitioned into a cover of the theme from The Neverending Story. It was a cool change of pace and wrapped up decently after transitioning back to “Kids.”
For the encore, they played “Hand It Over” which was my other favorite of the night and “Weekend Wars,” the only non-Little Dark Age deep cut heard that night. Looking at their setlists from other concerts, this seems to be the only song that varies. They’ve closed other shows with “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters” and “The Youth.” Part of me wonders what those would’ve been like, but “Weekend Wars” was definitely solid.
In the end, I came out of the show wanting a lot more. When I found out that I had gotten the press pass the night before, I was over the moon and I think I ended up setting my expectations a little too high. The wild charisma that I love in MGMT’s music just wasn’t there in their live show. Maybe if the venue wasn’t seating only or I was as intoxicated as everyone else there, I would’ve had a better time, but the environment should be secondary to the performance. On the evening of March 16, I left the Orpheum Theatre with a small hole in my heart.