A middling MGMT at the Bank of America Pavilion
With “Congratulations,’’ MGMT made one of this year’s most inspired pop albums, a kaleidoscope of psychedelic rock and labyrinthine melodies that challenged fans who first fell in love with the band’s debut. If Willy Wonka had an alternate soundtrack for that trippy boat ride down the chocolate river, “Congratulations’’ would be it.
Why, then, was MGMT’s show at the Pavilion Tuesday night so wildly uneven and, at times, a real drag? The easy answer is that the Brooklyn band hasn’t figured out how to translate “Congratulations’’ to a live setting yet. Its songs are crisp and clever, but at the Pavilion any sense of urgency was watered down, completely buried under layers of effects that kept the show from blasting off.
It wasn’t clear if the sound mix was to blame or if the bigger problem was guitarist-singer Andrew VanWyngarden’s insistence on rarely raising his voice above a murmur. Granted, it was a rock show, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to hear what the band has to say.
Sometimes the sheer vibrancy of the music was enough (“Brian Eno,’’ “Electric Feel’’), other times it became sonic wallpaper (“Weekend Wars’’), the perfect moment to sit and check your Facebook page. Even “Time to Pretend,’’ the band’s breakthrough single from 2008’s “Oracular Spectacular,’’ didn’t ignite the crowd the way it should have, although the audience singalong gave it extra oomph. And on second thought, throwing in “Siberian Breaks,’’ a 12-minute epic that twists and turns into new textures, felt like a supremely bad idea.
Based on the bizarre charm of “Congratulations,’’ it shouldn’t have gone down like this. “Flash Delirium’’ limped out of the gate, barely retaining the spacey little flourishes — the flute melody, the incredible build-up — that you relish on record. The energy noticeably sagged during “The Handshake,’’ momentarily salvaged by a snippet of the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner.’’
There was also a strange disconnect between material from MGMT’s debut and its follow-up. Those older songs are arguably more accessible, but the newer ones are often more interesting. On “Kids,’’ keyboardist and fellow MGMT mastermind Ben Goldwasser finally joined VanWyngarden centerstage on vocals (and, briefly, for some jumping jacks). For a fleeting moment, something magical transpired: From the band to the crowd, everyone seemed fully engaged. Congratulations were finally in order.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.