Most music fans happily proclaim that they like "all kinds of music."
The members of MGMT clearly count themselves among that number. On its major-label debut, "Oracular Spectacular," and in concert at the Paradise Wednesday, the first of two sold-out nights, the group gleefully investigated several directions, sometimes within the space of one epic jam.
Live, the quintet - originally formed by the nucleus duo of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser at Wesleyan University - switched gears so frequently, in fact, that sometimes it felt like seeing Emily play with Ziggy Stardust as Yoshimi rode a horse with no name alongside your best friend's girlfriend.
It's to the band's credit that those five great tastes - Pink Floyd, David Bowie, the Flaming Lips, America, and the Cars - were always evocations and never slavish imitations. But the variety-pack flavors that work so well on record, where the band benefits from the atmospheric guiding hand of producer David Fridmann (the Flaming Lips), were harder to re-create live during MGMT's 70-minute set.
When the expansive sound worked, the scruffy assemblage of musicians seemed to be tapping into a rarefied vein, one that transcended the intermittently murky sound mix. For instance, the flute-like keyboard fluttering, thumping backbeat, and sinuous, Prince-ly falsetto of "Electric Feel" was indeed spectacular. As was the time-shifting, hippie psychedelia of "Pieces of What," which stretched out into a groovy, yet economical, exploration that included a liberating clatter of drum fills and vocals that went from papery whispers to group chants.
But occasionally the sprawling instrumentation outstripped the basic intrigue of the song. The interminable guitar solo during "The Handshake" just enhanced the impatience to move on to the next song.
The crowd responded well to most of the dynamic shifts but cheered and bounced with noticeable enthusiasm to the set closer, "Kids," performed only by the founding duo and the guitarist. It was impossible not to twitch along to the driving, keyboard-originating backbeat and its fuzzy-synth pull. It may have been one of the most straightforward songs of the night, but it was also one of the most fun.
Inexplicably, the band waited to return for its encore, five minutes after the lights were brought up and the PA music came blaring back on and a good third of the crowd had already departed.
Openers Violens were more succinct in terms of genre but showed off splendid harmonies and a terrific sense of rhythm and guitar tension in their gritty garage pop.