Monday, July 28, 2008

Getting wet at the pool party; MGMT et al. live in Brooklyn (yesterday)

As I climb the stairs up from the L train subway stop in Brooklyn my error is instantly clear. The sunglasses on my head are extraneous, as ill-prescribed as a boxing glove at third base. The sun is hidden by layers of gray clouds that rolled in during my commute. Thunderstorms and rain are on the agenda, let there be no doubt, and my umbrella is in Manhattan.

Figuring I’ve been wet before—and at least it’s warm—I walk north toward McCarren Park and the McCarren Park Pool, where MGMT, Black Moth Super Rainbow and the Ting Tings are playing a free afternoon show.

It’s my first visit to the McCarren Park Pool, a giant, old, outdoor swimming pool, empty of water, where during the summer bands play and outdoor movies are shown. As I approach I see a large crowd gathered at the street corner. The listing said the show started at 2pm; it’s now 2:45. I expect to hear the Ting Tings wrapping up their opening set, but it’s not the case.

What I thought was a crowd is actually a thick line of people leading somewhere off to my right. Looking to get in line, I continue straight, walking down the block alongside the queue. I can’t see the end. I walk to Manhattan Avenue where the line wraps and I turn right to follow. Still no end in sight. Is the venue big enough for all these people? Did the promoter underestimate the popularity of MGMT? At Leonard Street I veer right again along with the snaking line, which finally ends at Bayard Street.

The line does not move.

Across the grass there’s a much shorter line to an alternate entrance. I move to this shorter line only to learn it’s the line for people on the guest list.

It’s beginning to rain now and I can’t see myself signing up for all this. I decide to leave, going the short way around, passing by the front entrance. There’s just one entry point and it’s essentially single-file—with security—a sign of some very poor planning. I’ll spare you the nefarious play-by-play, but suffice to say within ten minutes I’ve made it inside.

The scene is a sea of umbrellas and wet heads. The pool is massive. Off to the right a lively game of dodgeball is taking place within a cordoned-off area. After a few minutes the rain lightens a bit and the Ting Tings take the stage.

What I know about the Ting Tings is that they’re a male/female duo from the U.K. who make poppy, dancy tunes and their song “Shut Up And Let Me Go” was used in an iPod commercial.

What I learn over the next 45 minutes is that the Ting Tings are a very good time. Every song is a mini dance party and everyone’s forgotten about their wet shirts and shoes. “That’s Not My Name” is a highlight of the day.

The rain returns. I grab a beer and lean against the wall near the back in hopes of cutting my rain exposure by 50 percent. Violent thunder and lightning keep us entertained.

Fellow former Seattleite John Richards (seeing him here is just plain bizarre) introduces second act Black Moth Super Rainbow. Despite John’s endorsement I’m not impressed. Their songs are meant to be groovy funky numbers but in comparison to the Ting Tings, these guys sound mired in the… mire? The “singer” runs his voice through a keyboard vocoder or something. The first three songs all seem to have the word “summertime” in the chorus. Another song seems to consist of no lyrics other than “one, two, three, four, five.”

Yawn. I decide the promoter put the Ting Tings on first so the crowd would arrive early.

As the stagehands prepare for MGMT the rain stops and the sky clears. Maybe Mother Nature wasn’t a fan of Black Moth’s set either.

I’m still trying to figure MGMT out. They strike me as a blend of “Moonage Daydream” Bowie, “She Don’t Use Jelly”-era Flaming Lips, Marc Bolan (T. Rex), and a touch of Big Star with some hippie space-out jam-rock thrown in for good measure.

The band’s fashion sense has been lovingly adopted by the fans. I haven’t seen this much hot pink, light blue, purple and red since the 1985 VW Beetle Auto Paint and Detail Show in Honolulu. Or Andre Agassi in ’87. Some fans have brought Crayola markers and are drawing on each other’s arms, chests and faces. Headbands are back, apparently

Shirt of the day has to be the handmade number worn by the very large guy near the front. The back reads “Six foot Eight… Not my fucking problem.” You tell ‘em, tall guy.

MGMT (I’ve heard it’s pronounced “management,” but front man Andrew VanWyngarden says “M-G-M-T”) put on a solid show. Solid, that is, until they get around to playing “Electric Feel” 30 minutes into their set. Their performance is killer and the crowd—especially the ladies—goes justifiably crazy.

(I love that the bass line and layered vocals remind me of the old Brothers Johnson R&B tune “Stomp”)

Taking the stage for their encore, VanWyngarden says that in honor of this being the last year for concerts at McCarren Park Pool they’re going to play a 14-minute song. I hope that he’s joking, but he’s not.

I wander toward the exit at the rear, hoping they’ll close with “Kids,” the song that turned me onto MGMT. They do, but the music is prerecorded and the band members leave the stage save for VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser who grab mics and dance and sing what feels to this reporter like a bad cross between lip-synching and a performance on Ed McMahon’s Star Search.

The giddy crowd eats it up; for me it’s an unsatisfactory ending. But the show, as a whole, was certainly worth the price of admission.

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