"Was that on the new album?" the guy next to me asked his lady friend halfway through Monday night's MGMT show at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium.
She answered in the affirmative, just like she had been doing all night long. Just about everything -- save the instrumental "Lady Dada's Nightmare" -- from the Brooklyn quintet's SPIN-approved sophomore effort, Congratulations, made it onto the band's set list on the opening night of their tour. Which wouldn't have been such a bad thing, except that the album hadn't been released yet.
Then again, this is the age of the illegal download, the MySpace offering, and the YouTube leak, so many of the attendees at the sold-out show may have heard the tunes already. If so, they had a poor way of showing their appreciation, as only three songs garnered considerable enthusiasm from the crowd: "The Youth," "Time to Pretend," and "Kids," all off MGMT's hit debut, Oracular Spectacular.
Such is the band's dilemma. How do you thrill an audience that loves your quirky brand of electro-pop when you've decided to trade in the dance floor for the head shop?
MGMT used to dress like extras from Pirates of the Caribbean. When the act hit the stage Monday night, however, they had shed their accoutrements, dumping irony along with their eyeliner. Main duo Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser now looked like an indie-rock version of the Odd Couple, with VanWyngarden being the cool, messy one and Goldwasser posing as the brainy dork.
The group's set was equally lean and mean, with a distinct retro sheen. The beefed-up synth blasts and chanted harmonies of "Flash Delirium" recalled vintage Talking Heads, while a spasmodic, charging version of "Brian Eno" re-imagined Devo at its finest.
And with its breezy vocal and synth-swept acoustics, the disc's title tune caused more than one couple to start slow dancing, as if they were listening to "She Don't Use Jelly."
Like much of the psychedelic music of the '80s (and '90s), these tunes moved the body as much as the mind, which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like dance music.
Much of the crowd may not have known what to do with MGMT's new tunes, but give them more time to get to know the material and they should come around. MGMT's new tracks are still kind of weird; only now they're a different kind of weird.
"I Found a Whistle"
"Pieces of What"
"Song For Dan Treacy"
"Time to Pretend"