Somerset House Summer Series: MGMT

Somerset House Summer Series: MGMT
Somerset House Summer Series
July 9th, 2018

by Jenna Johnston

MGMT’s sold-out concert at Somerset House was a surreal and bold evening that began with their warm-up act Cola Boyy. I hadn’t heard of this act before and, while one Reddit thread would have you believe he’s an invention of MGMT (!), his sweet but slightly jarring blend of pop-synth disco and smooth funk, was quite charming as well as rather odd. However, it was the main act we were waiting for and as Cola Boyy drifted off stage the venue crept up to capacity for MGMT. As they entered the stage under a giant disco ball, with a vivid, red sunset backdrop and what I can only describe as a giant, Day-of-the Dead meets sad-clown balloon (and can be seen on their latest album cover), the anticipation for a unique show was high.

They opened with the title track from their latest album of the same name, Little Dark Age, in their distinctive, atmospheric-electro style. The backdrop on the stage transformed throughout the evening and from the deep red, film noir opening it shifted into an eerie green image of a castle onto psychedelic florals before another track had finished. The brilliant light shows and projections gave every song a distinct narrative and the effect of the impressive production was as compelling as it was enigmatic.

After opening with two of their latest tracks, they broke into ‘Time to Pretend’ and the change in the audience was unmistakeable. Not just because they’re fan favourites, but there’s a distinct difference in their most popular tracks, that are more upbeat with much more of a pop influence, and made a sharply bigger impact on the atmosphere. The night was as diverse in content as it was in staging, and just as every song felt like its own production, there’s a definite sense of an overall journey to the night and their set list, one that was aesthetically dazzling and bizarre. Their production of ‘She Works Out Too Much’ is in the style of a 80s aerobic workout video, starring a glittering, dancer with a poo-emoji mask. And it’s only after this extraordinary dancing queen of the drains that they announced, “Now for something different…” and began an acoustic section of the night with ‘When You’re Small’ and ‘Siberian Breaks’.

The sound quality of the instrumentals was phenomenal and it was the accomplished musical performances along with the fantastic production and visuals on stage that carried any intensity of the evening. Unfortunately, the open-air venue didn’t flatter their music or performance style and their understated, synth vibe fell flat in the outdoor setting. The soft vocals and smooth electronics lost what low levels of stage presence MGMT brought to the show and the focus felt very much to be on the visual impact of the lighting and set. Even when performing their most popular tracks from ‘Oracular Spectacular’ they didn’t sound like big anthems, but extravagant performance is less their style than a presence of geek-chic aloofness.

MGMT were as cool as their music and their performance was nothing if not slick, even if it was at the expense of any impression of improvisation, overall my feeling was one of watching producers rather than performers. Although their stage presence is discrete, when ‘Kids’ began it raised the atmosphere to the highest point all night. This would have made a fantastic climax, instead they followed up with ‘TSLAMP’ (Time Spent Looking At My Phone) and ‘The Youth’, which unfortunately acted as the exit soundtrack for a majority of the crowd. This artistic disharmony epitomized their performance: it was dissonant, unique and considered. Much of the material from ‘Little Dark Age’ is a vast improvement from their previous two albums, however, I would have preferred to see them in a more intimate venue that may be better suited to their particular brand of style.


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