SAN FRANCISCO — MGMT made its much anticipated return to the Bay Area Tuesday, for the first time in more than four years. Andrew VanWyngarden, Ben Goldwasser of The Middletown, Connecticut group brought their hybrid synth-pop and rock to a sold-out Warfield Theatre.
Backed by glitchy visuals, the duo and its touring band took to the stage and VanWyngarden hopped onto an elliptical as they opened with “She Works Out Too Much.” MGMT continued to warm up the crowd with songs off its fourth LP, Little Dark Age, released last February.
Throughout its releases, MGMT underwent musical transformations that sometimes puzzled fans, but would later grow on many. Its music over the first three albums grew layered with idiosyncrasies reflecting a desire for change and to deviate from pop contemporaries. The result often came across as colorful, sonic fractals; multifaceted and eccentric. New songs like “Little Dark Age” and “When You Die,” however, demonstrated MGMT’s strong rekindling of its glossy electronic sound while keeping some room to experiment.
When performed live, tracks from Little Dark Age felt like a flashback full of quintessential ‘80s vibes. The new album’s title track fused new wave and power-pop into a slow pulsing bop, while “When You Die” picked up the pace a little. On top of the morbid song titles, MGMT has never shied away from exploring grim themes. Even the band’s pop-centered tunes have heavy thoughts, but this time the gloom revealed itself through gothy instrumentals and morbid lyrics.
“We’ll all be laughing with you when you die,” VanWyngarden sang with a sinister charm on “When You Die”. In return, the San Francisco crowd showed endless enthusiasm for the new songs, singing along all throughout.
It didn’t take too long for MGMT to revisit old favorites like “Time To Pretend,” off Oracular Spectacular. While the 2007 single is about facing the real world with wide eyes, hearing it in person brought on both nostalgia for happier times and a catharsis from the present. With enchanting synthscapes and carefree vocals, there’s no other way to take in the song but as a happy-go-lucky anthem for the soul.
The rest of MGMT’s set consisted mostly of new tracks and Oracular Spectacular material. “Flash Delirium,” off 2009’s Congratulations, and “Alien Days,” off the band’s self-titled album, also made the cut, as well as hits “Kids” and “Electric Feel.” MGMT closed with “When You’re Small” and “Siberian Breaks,” a mix of new and old that emphasized the band’s sonic evolution.
Synth-pop Swedish artist Molly Nilsson set the night’s tone with haunting, yet groovy tunes. Nilsson’s isolated set-up (it was just her on stage) accentuated the wistful chimes that reoccurred in her music. Nilsson finished with a dark pop rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which she introduced as a song that isn’t as happy as it seems. Still, she and the audience danced along.