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MGMT: Just Kids

Mike Greenhaus | February 10, 2018

Andrew VanWyngarden was driving through Western New York when the reality of a Donald J. Trump presidency slowly came into focus. It was the night before the singer/guitarist and his MGMT partner, keyboardist Ben Goldwasser, were slated to start a session with their longtime producer Dave Fridmann and the returns had started to roll in. Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning looked bleak, to say the least. MGMT have never been the most outwardly political band, but VanWyngarden knew that a new dark age was upon him.

“We like to leave it up to the listener to interpret our songs, but we wrote and recorded this album in 2016 so certain things crept into the music,” he says just over a year after that surreal November evening, while preparing to roll out MGMT’s first full-length album since 2013, Little Dark Age. “Our emotions and moods changed with the news of the country.

It’s a mild autumn afternoon and VanWyngarden and Goldwasser are sitting on the same side of a wooden booth in a low-key Brooklyn pub. Though the tongue-in-cheek lyrics of their kaleidoscopic anthem “Time to Pretend” have served as the Brooklyn music scene’s unofficial mission statement for the better part of a decade, besides a festival set a few months earlier, it has been almost four years since MGMT have played a proper New York concert—and before this spring, they had spent over two years almost entirely off the grid. Especially in the age of instant social-media access, that break felt particularly worrisome, though MGMT never announced any sort of official hiatus and usually wait a few years between records.

MGMT are currently congregated in the area for a pair of all-star shows celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Velvet Underground’s first LP. VanWyngarden, who has lived in the Rockaway Beach section of Queens, N.Y. since before Superstorm Sandy ransacked the area in 2012, arrives first, sporting some Movember-approved facial hair; Goldwasser, who was near the forefront of the current pack of Kings County expats decamping to Los Angeles, walks in a few minutes later wearing a black leather jacket that conceals his otherwise visible tattoos. They’re both a little fried. The tribute’s opening night featured fellow art-rock trailblazers like TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Kurt Vile, and Avey Tare and Geologist of Animal Collective, and the after-party turned into something of an early-aughts family reunion. The MGMT duo weren’t sure what to expect—and, despite their prankster reputations, were uncharacteristically restrained onstage.

“We had to control ourselves,” VanWyngarden says with a smile. “During ‘Sister Ray,’ I really wanted to say, ‘sucking on a ding-dong’ over and over as a nod to Suicide.”

“Suicide did a cover of ‘Sister Ray’ and they just kept saying that over and over again,” Goldwasser explains, nodding to one of MGMT’s earliest post-punk influences, before shifting the focus back to the Velvets’ experimental heart-and-soul, John Cale, who used the shows to celebrate his 75th birthday. “It’s cool when you hear older musicians doing things that are forward-thinking and creative and not just rehashing.”