Preview: MGMT singer finally returns to boyhood home
November 27, 2013 10:49 PM
Andrew VanWyngarden and the rest of MGMT will perform at Stage AE Monday.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bands don't generally dictate their tour schedules, so you can't blame Andrew VanWyngarden for being such a stranger to Pittsburgh.
The frontman for psych-rock band MGMT, which has played Pittsburgh just once, grew up here from age 2 to 10, while his father, Bruce, was the editor of Pittsburgh Magazine (1985-93).
Where: Stage AE, North Shore.
When: 8 p.m. Monday.
Tickets: $32.50-$35; www.ticketmaster.com.
The family went south when Bruce became the editor of the alternative weekly Memphis Flyer, where he still works. Pittsburgh obviously didn't play much of a role in the musical development of the grade-school Andrew.
"Musically, besides what my parents were playing, which was stuff like Talking Heads, Bob Dylan and kind of classic stuff, I was just listening to pop music and watching VH1, so I grew up with, like, Boyz II Men, stuff like that," he says in a phone interview with horrid cell reception from "the woods of North Carolina."
After high school, Mr. VanWyngarden went north again to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he hooked up with keyboardist Benjamin Goldwasser in 2002, their freshman year. They started releasing demos as The Management, a name that turned out to be taken, prompting the switch to MGMT.
Signed to Columbia Records, they began recording the debut album in the spring of 2007 with Dave Fridmann, the psych wizard best known for his far-out work with Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. When they played their one and only Pittsburgh show -- September 2007, opening for Of Montreal at Carnegie Mellon University -- MGMT's debut album hadn't even been released yet.
Over the course of the next year, the big three from "Oracular Spectacular" -- "Kids," "Time to Pretend" and "Electric Feel" -- were in the conversation for the best singles of the year while defining the new hipster chic and drawing comparisons to David Bowie, New Order, Gary Numan and even the Bee Gees.
Pop fans looking for more of the same were left befuddled by "Congratulations," a follow-up album, produced with Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom, that had MGMT dropping musical acid and going deep into a pastoral British psych mode. The Pitchfork review began with, "If you're coming to the second MGMT album because you loved 'Time to Pretend,' 'Kids' and 'Electric Feel,' there's the door."
Those who took that option aren't coming back in again for this new self-titled third album, which establishes itself as an out-there space-rock exploration within the first 20 seconds of opening track "Alien Days." Spin declared that the clanking, head-spinning "MGMT" will "leave you as confused as they seem to be."
The production found MGMT back in the Fridmann lair.
"The first two albums we demoed everything ourselves and brought it to Dave," the singer says. "This time we collaborated with him through the whole process. He facilitates whatever direction we go in. This time we were doing a lot of improvisation in a room with a bunch of synths and guitars and samplers and we tried to set up loops."
While "MGMT" has been praised for its unabashed weirdness, some suggest the band is going out of its way to avoid the pressure of writing more hits like "Kids."
"There are some people who say that," he says, "but I think the fans who come to our shows and like to follow us want a band that tries to create worlds for the listeners. At least at this point in our career we're not interested in writing hits. We're just going to do them whenever we feel like."
For the time being, MGMT is on the road delivering the "Oracular" hits right alongside the newer, stranger excursions.
"They mix together well," he says. "We've been playing only the first half of the new album. Those are more straight-forward and easier in terms of the live show. We have a pretty cohesive show at the moment. The last few nights have been really good."
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