MGMT electrifies the concerto, live

by Steph Ware

MGMT electrifies the concerto, live

MGMT just released 11·11·11, their live album of an original 45-minute electro-concerto for the Maurizio Cattelan exhibition at the Gugenheim museum in New York City. The album, recorded on Nov 11, 2011, has come out exactly eleven years later. How’s that for commitment?

The band was commissioned to write music in reaction to the 2011 Cattelan display that The New York Times described as “a suspicion of willful disbelief.” Many referred to the exhibition as Italian artist Cattelan’s swan song – filled with a cat, donkey, and the Pope among others – as he was retiring at the time.

During the performance, MGMT said, “We’re creating a musical experience that works for the building and for the construction and presentation of the Cattelan exhibit.” The band continued, “It’s an art exhibit done in a completely original way, so it deserves music which is completely original.”

Cattelan’s exhibit is quite original and creative, but also weird – dare I say, peculiar. The album complements the art effortlessly: instead of evoking a shopping mall exhibit with corny music, MGMT creates a well-crafted tribute to an artist’s last dance. The album sounds like a continuous song with never-ending low humming and ghost noises. A smooth, swingy lullaby with different movements – an electronic concerto.

The smooth transitions like the one from “Invocation” to “Whistling Through the Graveyard” make the concert album feel like a single celebration, as the first few songs meld together in a mix of gritty guitar and peculiar, video game-like synths. But it works, and transfers you straight into the Cattelan exhibit.

From silence to words, MGMT turns to the next movement with the 9-minute track, “Tell It to Me Like It Is.” With the help of ambient forest and ghost sounds, plus tambourine, the band lays down a consistent riff, and surprises you with lyrics that bring the song together. It is the first song where lyrics were needed – the song would perhaps be boring and repetitive without it – and the band delivered.

“I Am Not Your Home” provides an eerie and borderline dissonant melody. It is hard to tell whether or not this song hurts the ears or is a siren song sung by some boring sirens. If there are any flaws in this album, it’s this weird section. It’s the album’s purgatory.

With “Interlude” and a reprise of “Whistling Through the Graveyard,” the concerto transitions to its final movement. “Under the Porch” is a fantastic finale for this concert. It’s different from the previous songs, and more like an electronic type of country ballad. I can easily imagine a robot cowboy strumming the melodies in a rocking chair on the front porch. Almost every second of this track is a ‘wow’ moment; it would have been a pleasure to be at this concert.

At first, I wondered what I would do if I were on the floor at this concert. How would I dance to the ominous riffs? But then, I realized the audience was most likely a bunch of one-percenters so I would not have been able to be there anyway. For what it is – a concert for an art exhibit – MGMT succeeds with this stellar live performance.