Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In review: Rock the Garden

[Originally posted at Vita.mn online]

Text by Jahna Peloquin
All photos by Leslie Plesser

Despite selling out in days to MPR/89.3 The Current members, naysayers had been lamenting this year's Rock the Garden lacked a venerable headliner. Though previous years boasted The Decemberists and The New Pornographers, this year's big name was MGMT - a young band with with a hit-lacking sophomore album and a reputation for being disappointing live act. But as the day came, the anticipatory hateration somewhat dissipated, thanks to the power of the Current, gorgeous weather, and a solid lineup of live bands, rounded out by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, OK Go, and Alan Sparhawk's Retribution Gospel Choir (the local contribution to the day). Sparhawk's rockin' three-piece kicked things off on a high energy note, though the band's loud, brooding sound didn't translate as well to the festival setting as it does to the dank, dark rock club. Indie pop band OK Go went over better with its well-worn set of hooky tunes running the course of its ten-year catalog, and explosive bursts of red-white-and-blue confetti throughout the set.

The most anticipated live act of the night, funk-soul revivalists Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, were nothing if not the full package, with two backup singers, two guitarists, a bassist and an entire horn section. Fronted by the diminutive Jones, all Tina Turnered-out in an aqua sequin-and-fringe dress, the band slinked through its setlist, highlighted by Current hit "I Learned the Hard Way," with ease.

But the big question of the night was whether MGMT would sink or swim. The band, fronted by original members Andrew Van Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser and backed by a newly expanded band - set the tone by kicking off its set with "Pieces of What," a spaced-out ballad from its debut Oracular Spectacular, as the sun set over the stage. With its biggest hit, "Electric Feel," appearing fourth on the setlist, it was clear the band was as much about pleasing the crowd as it was about self-pleasuring extended psych-jams. But the hits are where the band came off weakest. Though "Feel" got the crowd going, the falsetto vocals - one of the things that made the song so distinctive in the first place - faltered. You know the slams on the band being a fluke hit are sort-of on point when a band can barely manage to sing its biggest hits live. The band's encore "performance" - if you could call it that - of its massive club hit "Kids" basically amounted to Van Wyngarden doing karaoke over his band's own song, with the rest of the band dropping its instruments to half-heartedly shake a tambourine or egg shaker. But songs less reliant on Bee Gees-esque vocals and electro hooks, like the more psyched-out selections from its debut and its groovy single Flash Delirium," sounded album-perfect. Thanks to the filled-out instrumentation from its surprisingly able backing band, it seemed as if MGMT could pull this live thing off after all.

Click here to view more Rock the Garden photos.

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