3 Stars Music

MGMT live in Brooklyn, July 1, 2009

The electronic/disco/pop/rock group MGMT has made a huge splash, earning spots on tours with no less than Paul McCartney and Beck. The wildly catchy “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel,” and “Kids” (the latter featuring a truly deranged music video) are not out of keeping with the rest of their repertoire in terms of style and instrumentation, but the infectious hooks do stand apart from the forgettable rest. At their Celebrate Brooklyn concert in Prospect Park on July 1, they debuted a few new songs set for their forthcoming sophomore album that didn’t immediately grab me either.

MGMT live in Prospect Park
MGMT live in Prospect Park

For a band called “synth-hippies” by Pitchfork, they all looked rather clean-cut to me (but they evidently have a very young and boozy audience – one kid passed out and literally collapsed on our feet only a few songs into the concert). Their sound may be very electronic and a throwback to disco, but their live instrumentation is very rock guitar oriented. The only exception being “Kids,” for which the band put down their analog instruments and let the synthesizers and sequencers take over, even recreating a live fadeout.

4 Stars Movies Music

Yo La Tengo perform live to Jean Painlevé’s Science is Fiction in Prospect Park, 2006

Hoboken institution Yo La Tengo performs a live score to several of French filmmaker Jean Painlevé’s underwater documentaries. Interestingly, English subtitles indicate the films were apparently not silent in their original form, with narration and perhaps scores of their own. So not only is the audience’s experience of the films filtered through a spoken-French-to-written-English translation, but also by Yo La Tengo’s contemporary score.

Most of the films concerned the mating rituals and birth cycles of sea creatures ranging from octopi to mollusks. A rare intrusion of a human hand is seen during the dissection of a pregnant male sea horse. Without seeing the films in their original form, it’s hard to judge if they were clinical or artful in tone. Only one film was clearly intended to be abstract: a series of images of vividly colored liquids crystalizing, evoking the “Beyond Infinity” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Yo La Tengo’s musical interpretation transformed nearly every sequence into a dreamlike, non-literal cinematic experience.

I’m curious… was the band influenced by the original soundtracks? To what degree was the performance planned and/or improvised?

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