CLEARWATER — The pop charts are an uninspired, Auto-Tuned wasteland these days, a vacuum of recycled hooks, one-and-done prefab stars and "hits" with the shelf life of a jar of Hellmann's in the sun. And yet, the young'uns these songs are aimed at make up perhaps the most music-savvy generation in history.
Yes, the kids dig Lady Gaga and Lil' Wayne, but they also know their Led Zeppelin and David Bowie.
So it makes enlightening sense when a seemingly weird-o-rama band like MGMT achieves commercial success. Led by the Scrabble-liciously named Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, the Brooklyn-based quintet excels at kitchen-sink psychedelicism, blending then and now with a splash of what-the-heck. MGMT's music makes no sense — and all the sense in the world.
At Ruth Eckerd Hall on Wednesday, in front of more than 1,800 ecstatic teens and 20-somethings, the Grammy-nominated group played 90 minutes of head-spin that was both utterly strange and warmly familiar. Backed by a video screen programmed to look like it was on the blink — or at least programmed to look like a peyote-addled lunatic was at the controls — the band opened with the soft whispery emo of Someone's Missing, from 2010 album Congratulations.
That is, until Someone's Missing erupted into a lite-funk jam, MGMT setting the stage for its gear-shifting ways, vocalist VanWyngarden sounding like seven different people in the span of a six-minute song.
Ruth Eckerd is an unlikely venue for a band better suited to a grimy, smoke-choked indie club. And at first, the crowd wasn't sure to sit or stand, dance or look dazed. But after a surf-space sprawl-out that merged prickly angst with the choral cooing of a Charlie Brown holiday special, MGMT launched into 2007's Time to Pretend, a strutty pop gem fueled by a loopy keyboard line courtesy of Goldwasser. And like that, everyone arose and boogied.
And that's the way it worked — soft then ragged, soothing then rash, influences plucked from the last 50 years popping up like dandelions. Flash Delirium smooshed together My Chemical Romance, '60s Brit-rock and that creepy magic flute from H.R. Pufnstuf. Electric Feel was neo-disco a la Maroon 5 but, um, you know, cool. Kids was a joyful stroll through adolescent neuroses, Brian Eno a scattershot, ear-assaulting art-punk breakdown.
Through it all, the crowd continued to move. And why not? Sooner or later with MGMT, you're going to catch a groove that suits you.