Time travels quickly. Surely it can’t be a decade since MGMT burst onto the scene with Kids, their take down of hedonist living? Yet as we stand in the Somerset House courtyard there are certain aspects of the duo’s music that date their appearance back to 2008.
If you were completely unfamiliar with their music and were parachuted into the courtyard of the complex you might for a moment think you were watching Air. As the boyish Andrew VanWyngarden – bearing a resemblance to a character from Dawson’s Creek – gives his distinctive and slightly nasal tone to the songs, Benjamin Goldwasser applies the electronic guile at his side. A trio of musicians bolster the sound for the big hitters, the likes of Kids, Electric Feel and Time To Pretend strutting their stuff in that distinctive, slightly scuzzy electro approach beloved of the last decade.
Yet in truth MGMT’s heritage goes back a lot further, and this is evident in a broad canvas of songs. Those from most recent opus Little Dark Age are slightly elusive in the live environment, the lyrical nuances lost to the chattering crowd where the vocals could be louder in the mix. VanWyngarden puts this right when an exercise bike arrives for She Works Out Too Much, a song about the dangers of over-exertion in the name of vanity. Peter Gabriel somehow used to multi-task Solsbury Hill with riding a bike around the stage, but VanWyngarden finds singing and pedalling a curious mix, judging by the hysterics that ensue.
The stage takes on the appearance of a lush garden, the potted greenery illuminated by some imaginative lighting and projections. This enhances the more relaxed songs at the core of the set, as well as providing extra colour and exoticism to the Pink Floyd aping Siberian Breaks, from second album Congratulations, with its odd waltz section. TSLAMP (Time Spent Looking At My Phone) heralds a giant phone screen, its homepage surprising those already swiping their own handsets.
The duo’s ‘difficult period’, albums two and three, yields rather less of the night’s music (no Congratulations or It’s Working) but it proves enlightening to see a versatile outfit capable of charm and amusement while also moving the body and mind. Sometimes all four things happen in the same song – Time To Pretend especially – but the ebb and flow of the set is nicely judged, from perky electronica to dreamy soft rock. There are strong undercurrents from classical (the quasi-Bach opening) and also more pastoral progressive rock. Songs like James and Me And Michael reveal a softer underbelly, the band not afraid to show some vulnerability and unabashed flattery. James, after all, is a paean to live guitarist James Richardson, but it passes without obvious dedication.
The harmonic twists and turns of Youth are the duo’s final say for the evening, the observations that ‘the youth are starting to change’ as pertinent as they were when debut album Oracular Spectacular emerged. A decade on and the duo’s music and lyrics continue to stand up well to scrutiny.