MGMT and Francis and the Lights at the Fox Theater

Categories: Last Night

Jen Cash of Calibree Photography

Francis and the Lights
July 21, 2010
Fox Theater, Oakland

Better than: Hearing "Time to Pretend" out in the world for the 765th time.​

A great many MGMT listeners wondered what the hell the band was thinking when it followed Oracular Spectacular -- a debut album that yielded the interstellar hits "Kids" and "Time to Pretend" -- with the trippy, shiftless, and arguably singles-lacking Congratulations.

But the answer seemed pretty clear at the Fox Theater last night: Ben Goldwasser and Andrew Van Wyngarden are tired of playing the hits -- or at least their biggest hit.

How else to explain the fact that, when "Kids" "Time to Pretend" [Whoops -- see comments] finally blasted through the Fox's P.A. last night -- not in the encore, but at the end of the main set -- no one onstage seemed to be playing their instruments? Also, that it sounded every bit like its recorded version?

Jen Cash of Calibree Photography
Normally, blasting your record through the P.A. during what's supposed to be a live set is a big no-no. But perhaps we should revise our criterion for this particular MGMT song. If for even casual fans the sheen long ago wore off hearing "Kids" "Time to Pretend" in cafes, drugstores and through the neighbor's wall -- and surely it did -- imagine how the band members must feel. Probably like they're sealed in a prison of their own post-adolescent fantasies ("We'll move to Paris/ Find some models for wives," the song goes), and doomed to serve as a live jukebox to legions of folks who couldn't be bothered to listen to any of Oracular Spectacular's non-singles -- songs in which the masses alienated by Congratulations would surely discover that MGMT's music has always leaned more toward spacey psych-folk with ribbons of catchiness than radio-configured pop.
Jen Cash of Calibree Photography
If "Kids" "Time to Pretend" was feigned with the help of a recording last night, no one seemed to mind. The hodgepodge crowd still shot its cameras and cocktails into the air, bounced, took pictures, hugged. Two high-school age girls standing near me arrived in Daisy Dukes and sequined bras -- nothing else -- and swayed along to the song with the enthusiasm of cheerleaders at homecoming. (They succeed at stealing a lot of male eyeballs from the psychedelic projections onstage.) "Time to Pretend" did seem rushed, although it still proved at least as enjoyable as the last 327 times I've heard it.
Jen Cash of Calibree Photography
MGMT has some other songs, too. (And not just "Kids," which felt like a pleasure, rather than an obligation, last night.) "Flash Delirium," the meandering prog-rock highlight of the band's weird sophomore record, didn't quite reach the ecstatic heights it should have -- it came only second in the set -- but it's spiraling climax was still one of the night's best moments. "Electric Feel," a hesitating monster stomp of of a sing-along, also seemed to win over the entire sold-out crowd. "Brian Eno" got an extra shot of espresso for its caffeinated ramble last night, and seemed one of the more well-liked tracks from Congratulations. (It's certainly one of the best.)
Jen Cash of Calibree Photography
VanWyngarden played an acoustic guitar for much of last night's set -- a testament to MGMT's lesser-noticed folky side. And while the band's rendering of negative space didn't keep a terribly firm grip on the attention spans of its fans, many of the quieter songs benefitted from the dynamic range of the live stage, and the energy that comes with a packed room. "Congratulations," the closing ballad of the latest album, cascaded lushly and gorgeously as the band played it for the final song of the night. But since "Time to Pretend" came before, a lot of MGMT fans weren't there to notice.
Jen Cash of Calibree Photography
Critic's Notebook 
Personal bias: I love Congratulations. The fact that so many MGMT fans don't -- and I spoke to several last night who said they just couldn't get into the album -- testifies, I think, to ridiculously wide appeal of "Time to Pretend" and "Kids." Certainly the crowd at last night's show, which included the expected tight-jean-and-thick-rimmed-glasses set, along with the aforementioned high school girls, as well as just a lot of regular-seeming Bay Area folks -- was far more diverse than would usually show up to hear a band as spacey and weird as MGMT.

Pot report: Last night was as smoke-filled as I've ever seen the Fox.

Opener: I only caught the last few songs of their set, but Francis and the Lights exuded energy and ambition. They take their '80s smooth-rock unironically (unlike, say, the Yacht Rock boys), and that's a good thing. Tall, lanky frontman Francis Starlite danced with an oddly robotic flex and so much unpredictable energy that he had to keep his drink on the side of the stage.

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