Confronting MGMT’s Bored Girlfriend Problem
The band's Guggenheim show evolves into a relationship test.

MGMT performs at the Guggenheim, November 2011. Photo by Mehan Jayasuriya for MTV Hive

Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.

It’s so cute how MGMT keep trying to suck. Back when they were freshman at Wesleyan in the mid-2000s the band’s core duo, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, wrote a bunch of songs that mocked the rockstar lifestyle with such glittery panache that it turned them into actual rockstars. Since then, the pair have tried to set fire to their own image as Grammy-nominated establishment artists by doing things like releasing a sophomore LP like last year’s Congratulations that was both weird and dull, avoiding interviews and major tours, and — in petulant disregard for this generation’s rules of operation — maintaining almost no online presence. The latest installment in this ongoing attempt at self-sabotage took place last week at the Frank-Lloyd-Wright-designed basilica of the Guggenheim museum. Asked to perform surrounded by the irreverent iconoclastic work of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, the band wrote from scratch forty-five minutes of new songs, which sound like the meandering murky psychedelic score to a druggy hipster porno, except the Guggenheim is too exposed for public banging and the only drug on hand was bad art gallery red wine.

“The sounds were like the periods of a Radiohead show where you indulge this kind of egghead electro-noodling because they are Radiohead and you know you’re getting “Paranoid Android” at some point.”

In keeping with the slumming-it-uptown theme of the evening I began with drinks at 21, the legendary restaurant and boozing establishment off Fifth, guzzling twenty dollar martinis before catching a cab to the nether regions of the upper east side. An army of PR girls awaited arriving parties in town cars and showed them inside where it was like a Gossip Girl event – all pretty pouty college girls in slutty high concept fashion (ex: black cotton half shirt with lace inlay parachute pants and a beret) and their dates, slightly older art-history-masters-degree types in trying-to-be-anonymous famous actor wear (dark blazer, expensive jeans, black ski cap). Most of the art had been removed from the walls but the expanded slinky that is the Guggenheim’s spiral exhibition space was packed from bottom to top with girls in towering heels leaning precariously over the not-really-high-enough edge, “electric feel” lemonade cocktails in hand, gazing down at the elaborately lit stage or up at the never ending array of sculpture suspended from the ceiling like a giant mobile for a disturbed baby.

The art was cool. Most people were into the mini-Hitler or the pope being struck by a meteor but my favorites were the assorted yellow Labradors crouched down on little swing-like slivers of wood looking baffled and abandoned. Friends dispute this, but I swear that when the band finally took the makeshift stage downstairs they opened with seven or so seconds of the amniotic gurgling that begins “Time To Pretend,” the first song on their breakthrough debut, Oracular Spectacular, but maybe that was just wishful thinking. Look, the show looked incredibly cool, these multi-colored gel lights bouncing off the madcap art before it finally landed on the band who stood still and stoic behind their instruments. But the sounds were like the periods of a Radiohead show where you indulge this kind of egghead electro-noodling because they are Radiohead and you know you’re getting “Paranoid Android” at some point.

At first the assembled art-damaged rock girls diligently tried to understand why their boyfriends brought them here, nodding along with the noise then making trips with girlfriends to the single occupancy bathrooms on each floor to touch up their eyeliner, but their attention waned. “Do you think we can get into La Esquina tonight, I’m starving,” said one girl in McQueen heels tossing her plastic cup into the trash half an hour into the band’s set. “I just don’t get this.” Yep, the set was totally passive aggressive but as self-consciously cool couples started asking Siri what they should do post-show, it occurred to me that this accosting of defiant bratty noise was also one of the most punk rock things I’ve seen in a while.

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