Live: MGMT Travel Up The Spiral At The Guggenheim

Benjamin Lozovsky/
Guggenheim Museum
Thursday, November 10

Better than: A rock show without a reclining Pope sculpture looming above.

During the afterparty for the Guggenheim Museum's annual International Gala Thursday night, held in honor of Maurizio Cattelan and his triumphant retrospective "All," MGMT summoned a drony, hypnotic, and reference-filled examination of the visual artist's career thus far. Walking up the Guggenheim's spiraling ramp and being endlessly taunted by Cattelan's cavorting monstrosities as the band performed new and non-vetted material conjured up a slow-growing feeling of unease that never quite culminated in shock.

Precise strips of colors illuminated Cattelan's works during the performance, resulting in the feeling of being inside a striped circus tent. The music, specifically written by MGMT as a reaction to Cattelan's work, grew at a seemingly irksome pace, just as walking up along the rotunda, and through Catellan's cobwebbed brain, inspired predictions of overstimulation and eventual fatigue. Neither the performance nor the installation made good on those promises—both instead were set on, and succeed with, pushing the acceptability of how long one simple idea could be developed. Catellan's works, which appear dense and bewildering from below or above, actually come alive up close. Stately glimpses of his often morbid, always shock-conic hyperrealist creations abound as the journey up the ramp continues.

Similarly, MGMT's unbroken 45-minute set was bookended with gradual swells of noise and ambient sounds, thick and disorienting. In between, the band moved through a stream of simplistic ideas, smoothly juxtaposed amongst each other while in transition. There was a hokey yet amusing western elegy section, a surf-jangle movement, and a menacing, downtempo hip hop murder ballad, full of unnerve and sparkling keyboards. The climax arrived about three quarters in, when a momentary lull was followed by loud, psyched-out groans transforming into a powerful, synth-driven steam engine. Just as with Cattelan's work, most of the music's turns seemed to be within the realm of the expected while not seeming like they traveled any designated trajectory.

It helped that both Cattelan and MGMT deal with shock presentations of familiar material. Catellan's sculptures of well-known or notorious figures and iconoclastic images come to life not necessarily through pure imagination; instead, they challenge and incite through bluntly coloring our existing notions of his subjects. MGMT largely avoided their breakout gaudy electropop bangers in favor of a psychedelic hodgepodge of well-traveled ideas and helter-skelter ambitiousness for their second major album Congratulations. They continued that skew at the Guggenheim, although the relative simplicity made it feel more focused and nuanced.

When Animal Collective took part in a similar audio-visual collaboration at the Guggenheim in March 2010, they were even more at the peak of their pop explorations, yet the installation they helped envision was far too sparse and incongruent to fully manifest much of thoughtful coherence. MGMT's set, on the other hand, was close enough to their current motivations to feel like more of a step in some direction, rather than just an artsy diversion to reaffirm a band's core weirdness. Even if lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden admitted in a video interview on the museum's website that the music was most likely a one-time experience and not a predictor of what was next to for the group, maybe MGMT does deserve some of the angsty, self-doubting artist cred they were sadly denied when they rose to such prominence. When in the presence of such an iconic artist as Cattelan, they borrowed all the right moves. And when presented with the opportunity to reinvent who they were, at least for one night, they dutifully strayed outside themselves just enough.

Critical bias: More horrific thought: Figures of dead children dangling from gallows, or well-heeled socialites and scurrilous young professionals pushing personal boundaries by getting their "avant" on with MGMT?

Overheard: "You didn't see Hitler hanging up there in all his glory?" "Nope. I guess I missed a lot."

Random notebook dump: Andrew VanWyngarden's stellar transcendental turtleneck ensemble stole the show. Had he been strung up alongside the dead horses and outstretched Picassos, he could have easily been confused for a minor historical entry in Catellan's pragmatically twisted encyclopedia.

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Jesus some people are dumb. Muzzik man, stick to whatever safe lite fm station you listen to. How bout some coldplay bro? your music taste is safe. artists experiment, and when they do they alienate idiots like you. its the way the world works, and i wouldnt have it any other way. dont worry, though, another new technobeat autotune dubstep reggaetone hit featuring rihanna will make you forget all about the boys in MGMT. If i were in the band, I'd be glad idiots like you were jumping ship.

The review writes eloquently just because thats the style, theres no creativity in the words, bored words. no personality, no voice. just some privilaged liberal arts clone, looking for the next hit that will make him feel current and part of something. soon your life meaning will be defined by routine, soon you'll stop listening, and complain how there are no more voices, soon you will not be able to obsorb anything creative, relying only on cultural instant gratification. in the meantime, you shit-talk mgmt's new direction, because they didn't play any hits for you.

Muzzik Mann
Muzzik Mann

Letter being sent to band:

Andrew & Ben –


I went to the 11/11/11 show at the Guggenheim Museumand want to let you know how disappointed I was in your performance.  As background, in the last 6months I’ve seen over20 shows - Black Keys, TV on the Radio, Coldplay, My Morning Jacket, etc..pointbeing, I think I’m qualified to critique a concert.


I was a huge fan of Oracular Spectacular, one of the bestalbums of the past 5 years. Most fans agree Congratulations was not as good,but still enjoyable. When I saw you were playing a show at the Guggenheim, Iwas super excited. You may not realize this, and it certainly seems that youdon’t care, but amongst a big subset of concert-goers, MGMT is known for beingdisappointing live. Against warning, I thought the venue, the fact that you’refrom the east coast, and it being a tiny show, would be inspirational, Ithought you guys might show up w/ some real effort.  


I’m pretty sure I put more time and effort into finding thetickets than you two did in the show. If I draw a line connecting your firstalbum, with your second, to now doing shows like this…it’s a line straightdown. I’m starting to think you guys might be the M. Night of music. Iunderstand you had specific music you wanted to play, and after I read that youplayed new music on Thrs night, I was excited to hear some new tunes. But yourfans also want to hear the music that made them fans, your hits. Plus, youdidn’t really play your new music either. You barely played any music. You guyssat on the stage and screwed around with your instruments for 45 mins, didn’tsay one word to the crowd and rarely sang lyrics. You’re not a jam band, you’renot incredibly talented on your instruments, no one paid to see you mess aroundw/ your keyboards and guitars. You used to make good music, and that’s whatfans paid for, and on that front you utterly disappointed.


The venue lived up to expectations. But, the lights andsound guys are the only ones that earned their paycheck.. What you guys did onstage was trash. You owe your fans an apology, if nothing else figure out whatgot you your fans, finish whatever rifts exist in the band, and either startbeing performers or stop performing. Pretty sure last night you guys weren’t “MGMT”in its original meaning, you were The Management, Co, Inc., Corp., bigproduction, made some money and could not have cared less about your fans. 


Former Fan,

Muzzik Mann



good photos, too bad the article is shit.


fartman i like your passion and maybe you went to the show and loved it, but i checked it out and was pretty f'ing disappointed my man. if you were there, post why you thought it was so good, its good to hear someone's opinion of the show, and not  your response about a response about a response....or did you not go to the show and dont actually know what you're talking about


WHOA MUZZIK MANN! You missed the point of this performance completely.


yes i was there, it was a lot of fun, it was music to accompany the exhibit. when a bunch of crazy fans show up expecting an mgmt concert, and are disapointed when its not exactly that, well.... ya know? it was a fun little project of theirs, not an album. its just theyre so huge, that everyone is expecting something from them. What i mean, is that they have every right to be weird, so obviously you can shit talk it, but I WANT to see these guys experiment, so I am showing my support. Keep in mind that they are young and probably want to fuck around. If anyone's night was ruined by this, well... fuck I don't know. I get upset when i see nerds OFFENDED that the band didnt do EXACTLY what they wanted or expected. fuck man rock and roll is safe enough, its nice to see a little unexpected. dtothecs, respect for saying it cool, and not like you were OWED a straight run through their hits performance.

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