Who’s Next, Christian Fundamentalists?
A Live Evening with MGMT
by Matt Horseshit

“Peoples of the earth, you have all been poisoned.” — Wiliiam S. Burroughs

Am I a statistical target? I like to think not, but we all play the victim sometimes and I’m starting to think that I might be becomin’ a victim of the powers that be. It’s really getting hard to know “what” is really “what” these days (really?), and MGMT is like the well in which we fish. Everything you read about these guys in the press leads you to believe that the success of their first record, Oracular Spectacular, with all those catchy, dance-inflected keyboard hooks cooked up by scientists in a lab somewhere—you know it even if you don’t know it (trust me)—was a fluke, and that the fans of said album didn’t really know the “real” MGMT and that this new album is a coming-out party of sorts which will likely turn off those fans. Congratulations is who they “really are” and this is the album they’ve been “waiting to make,” even if it alienates 100% of their fanbase. Part of me thinks that’s bullshit and these dudes just feel like total losers because the fans they happened to gain with Oracular Spectacular were vacant airheads who hop on any train they’re told to. “So for this one we’ll fuck them aside and focus on winning over the cool kidz.” And on the surface, it seems exactly so. Bring in Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3 fame to produce, call up Jennifer Herrema from RTX for a guest vocal, add in a song about Television Personalities’ leader Dan Treacy, and top it off with a song titled “Brian Eno.” Shit, why not go the couple extra yards and exhume Timothy Leary to talk about LSD during a bridge while a zombie Sonny Sharrock plays a solo that sounds like birds swimming the Nile in the background? The hipsters won’t be able to resist, especially since most of those hipsters secretly dug that first album anyways. So this’ll be the chance to bring them outta the closet. “Hell, everyone’s gonna be happy, and we’re all gonna get filthy rich.” But wait...

All of a sudden I’m thinkin’ back like six months ago in Portland, and I’m sitting with a friend who literally hates everything in the world. (I’m sure you’ve got one.) He’s scanning the weeklies across from this record shop, commenting on the dull, droll state of current underground and popular music when outta nowhere he stops flipping the pages and says, “You know what? I don’t know why, but I think I kinda like these guys,” pointing to an MGMT ad. “Yeah, they don’t seem all bad. They have catchy hooks at least,” I lamely intone. Just then, across the street, a kid walks outta the record store with three records he just purchased (all recent reissues). Guess what they were?

Royal Trux’s Twin Infinitives, Television Personalities’ ...And Don’t the Kids Just Love It, and Spacemen 3’s Perfect Prescription.

Now I’m back in the present and I’m starting to smell something, and it ain’t so much the bullshit anymore, but something much more perverse and rooted. And it’s not exhumed Tim Leary whose walkin' over reading out of one of his own books:

“Successful popstars are skillful market researchers, anticipating trends, probing the consciousness of the young, performing for the constituencies the same function as the establishment media—saying what their public wants to hear. With shameless ‘sincerity’ they croon the messages of the moment, accurately reflecting the up-to-date counter-culture-adolescent fad.”

He gasps and falls to the floor. Dead again. Thank you Tim, you’ve been very enlightening as usual. Now it’s totally obvious that this is way deeper than I thought when I was first thinking this was deep a couple of minutes ago. This is possibly the one, the big flood that’s gonna drown us all in robotized slumber. But whoa, am I getting ahead of myself or what? Stop. Breathe. Okay, where was I?

An old faceless sage said something (on VH1 Behind the Music) awhile back, and I didn’t get it at the time. He said, “There is an unspoken brotherhood amongst popular musicians that is seldom mentioned, from Elvis on through the Beatles to Zep up all the way to today, encompassing even the rap world and almost all genres of music. Except, of course, Christian rock. It accounts for and explains all the peculiarities and seeming coincidences of the business, but remains in the shadows.” Three weeks, 18 cheeseburgers and 235 guitar solos later he was dead. R.I.P. Jerry G. That’s a little far out and abstract, though, so we’ll restart ’er here.

According to Arkon Daraul’s History of Secret Societies, at any given time there are less than three successful international popstars that are not part of this secret global organization. They are hell bent on brainwashing and controlling the masses, thus feeding the star-media-lawyer mega machine in endless cold hard bills. Yummy! Daraul says it works something like this:

Scientists, in a think tank off the coast of California, hired by some shadowy figurehead code-named “The Controller,” research and data-encrypt billions of statistical figures concerning personal information each day, most of which is provided by seemingly innocent companies via your credit cards. Stuff like which channel you watch and at what time you watch it when you watch TV. And yeah, you know those free cigarettes you get at the bar sometimes? Those aren’t really free, because as we all know, information equals money equals power. Anyway, they use all this info to do the sorta’ stuff that Leary was talking about in whatever book he was jiving out of. Except now there’s perception control and brainwashing involved, which makes the whole game a sorta’ Ouroboros effect in action.

Now that might still be a little far out to some of ya so I’ll stop there without getting too deep into it. All I’ll say is that I’m barely scratching the surface here and the implications are “way deep,” if you catch my drift. Plus, I could have it all wrong and then I would have wasted a whole lot more of your time getting way out in space in some enormous digression about identity or the illusion of freedom or some other such nonsense when all you really wanna’ hear about is the MGMT show last week in Columbus. (This is a review after all.) Besides, it could be just the way it appears on the surface and these are just some cool dudes who like great music and just happened to accidentally hit it big with a couple of international smash hits a couple of years back. But these are guys who are really on some pop-psych, hipster trip and they’re gonna show you—so check out who they “really are.” Difficult second album? Blah blah blaw... I’m willing to bet they own those reissues, though.

Anyways, in the car before the show I eat a pill of ecstasy because I’m convinced there's some sorta’ suggestive connection between MGMT and MDMA. The show is sold out and tickets were $30 a pop, but I’m going for free, as the kind fellows in MGMT were kind enough to kindly put my girlfriend and I on the list at the last minute. (Ahhh, sweet connections.) There’s no way we’re paying $60 to see something that I’m pretty sure is involved in a worldwide conspiracy.

Inside, the ecstasy must be working fast, ’cause immediately we are swimming in a sea of neon, interspersed with beer dealers. I haven’t been to an outdoor event for awhile. There’s hardly anyone smoking, and it’s freaking me out. Openers, Tame Impala, are finishing up while we smoke a J in the grass and soon comes the set change. Now I’m really feelin’ it when I remember that the first song off the new album is called “It’s Working,” which feels sinister. “Am I thinking about the drugs?” But I’m thinking about neon and hero-worship. “Am I the target or are they just trying to turn on some kidz?” The stage backdrop looks kinda like the album cover, and I’m pretty sure they’re gonna use it to project those cats a little later. This place is packed, though, and I’m getting a little claustrophobic when it appears that MGMT are going to be starting soon, and they do.

Oh my god, what did I drag my girlfriend out to see? This is horrible, and I’m totally embarrassed because she probably thinks I actually like this crap. So it goes through the course of four complete, longish, boring songs. But then something happens.

The sun goes down and suddenly its nighttime and something has changed ’cause now they’re playing short pop songs that I swear sound almost like complete rip-offs of the Television Personalities. It’s the second album period (which also just got reissued, so I’m not that surprised), with all those dark keyboard melodies and lots of chord changes. Really poppy, though. You know what? I’m kinda enjoying it. And you know what else? The crowd (aged 15–35), who are obviously mostly here to hear the first album’s hits, are hanging in there for the most part, bobbing heads accordingly, but not freaking out like later when they bust out some oldies. This is kinda’ nice, a vaguely proggy, bratty pop thing that goes on for awhile. At points throughout you can also hear echoes of Phish, Skynard, ’70s arena ballads, ’80s dance—a little something for everyone in attendance. How nice. The sound is particularly good for an outdoor venue, and the vocals stay pretty buried behind the guitars, which at certain points light up with way too loud tremolo flourishes shouting out to Spacemen 3. The keyboards do similar “louder than the rest of the mix” swirls and twirls. It makes it kinda awesome to listen to.

When they finally do play a hit off that first record it’s hard not to notice because the previously polite crowd loses their shit and start jumping and dancing like they’re at a Gucci Mane concert, which is weird ’cause the music sounds like a cross between T-Rex and Yeasayer. The vocals come way up in the mix for these numbers. They only play a few like this, though, focusing mainly on Congratulations. I don’t catch many of the song titles, but “Song for Dan Treacy” stands out for some “strange” reason, and it sounds like Dan Treacy’s own “Scream Quietly” off that second Television Personalities record. Another song lasts for like 15 minutes, gets repetitious as all hell, and right when my girlfriend leans over to me and says, “Wow, they’ve been playing the same thing for, like, ever,” the song splinters off into a different section. We look at each other spooked as all hell because what if they calculated that repeat to the perfect point of “is this gonna go on forever?” and then switched it right when our brain was about to take notice? Spooky indeed. But the beer robot is rollin’ by so I put in some bills and a couple fresh ones pop out and I’m looking at the backdrop and wonderin’ when they’re gonna show that damned cat.

I’ve been waiting all night for that cat. Actually it’s two cats from the cover of the new album. One is a small surfing cat with two heads on one body, which is getting swallowed by another one, who seems to be swallowing everything in sight. It’s obvious which cat MGMT is, even though they’re trying to play it like they’re the surfer cat getting gulped by the record company or the media or whatever they think is eating them. It’s plain to see that they’re a firm part of the companies in control and they represent the big cat, gulping up as much of the potential market as they can. Use a different tactic and target for this new album and rope the two heads (first album fans and potential new fans) to one body and swallow it down.

“Who can we go after next? The record companies are going down fast. Dwindling record sales call for new tactics. Leave no one behind. We need everyone’s money, even the niche markets are coming into play.”

I am a target, and MGMT is a net. And all they’re really trying to do is cast that net farther and farther so that they have optimal sale ability in this time of immanent downfall. Something for everyone, as even the weirdos who are too cool for school need to be marketed to and won over. No one is safe. It’s a “we’re gonna get you all” type of thing. This seems weird ’cause I didn’t think there were a lotta me out there. I should’ve smelled it in the air this last year with the kinda’ stuff getting the reissue treatment. In fact, it now seems totally obvious.

They never do show those cats, but they do flash Brian Eno, though, obviously during the song “Brian Eno,” which sounds like more of the Television Personalities’ second album, but has a chorus that goes "Brian Eno, Brian Eno, Brian Eno, Brian Eno.” This kid in front of me points to the screen and says to his friend, “Hey look, that’s Brian Eno,” and someone behind me says, “You know, if even one of these kids or drones goes home and checks out or listens to Eno or the Television Personalities then that’s totally rad, and I have a lot of respect for these guys.” Yet some kid beside me turns to his friend and shouts, “Who’s Brian Eno? He looks like a Victorian martian.”

Now my head’s explodin' and my thoughts are having thoughts, so I go get a beer at the bar and miss a couple tunes. The TV shows that the Celtics are gettin’ their asses handed to them and it’s game six. I immediately link it to the green ecstasy pill I ate that had a devil stamped on it, stealing their mojo through sacrament for my own selfish enjoyment. How foolish of me, I wander back to the lawn.

Kidz are chanting “Kids,” and I’ve yet to hear any of the international smash hits from that first album. Part of me hopes they play it or that other one which hit first (“Time to Pretend”) because Chris Devil said they wouldn’t while comparing ’em to Weezer, which was weird, so I kinda want him to be wrong. Some darker part of me hopes that they don’t so that everyone in the crowd gets bummed except for me. The thought “After all I’m not one of them” goes coursing through my head. They play it, and if earlier it was a Gucci Mane show, now it’s Michael Jackson’s resurrection. A Neverland homecoming tour and everybody in attendance is frothing like dogs ’cause they waited all night for them to play “Kids” and now they’ve played “Kids” and everybody finally got their $30-worth. Goodnight.