MGMT concert shatters stereotypes


Photo by Kate Parsons.

MGMT played a sold-out concert in the Hoogenboom Monday night, shattering stereotypes of what constitutes a “typical Calvin concert.”

“When I think of a typical Calvin concert, I think guitars and strumming,” sophomore Erin Smith said, speaking exaggeratedly slowly to refer to the singer-songwriter musicians Calvin often attracts.

Student Activities Director Ken Heffner agreed. The Covenant Fine Arts Center auditorium, where most concerts are held, is designed for the audience to sit and take in a performance. Audience members are often encouraged to discern the music by thinking about the artistry and the lyrics.

By contrast, Heffner said, MGMT “isn’t a band you do a lot of thinking about.” The psychedelic rock band performs whimsical, electronic-feel music, primarily “dance music,” which Heffner adds is “the main reason we brought them.”

“We’re not really comfortable with our bodies at Calvin,” Heffner said, excited about bringing musicians to Calvin who valued expression and movement.

But with the band’s dance music style came a different type of audience. Despite bag checks at the doors and security hired for the event, some things slipped past security.

Sophomore Joel Gustafson, who worked the merchandise table, suspected several concert-goers had been smoking. “I got to smell them coming in,” he said. “It definitely smelled like marijuana.”

Ken Heffner confirmed the suspicion, reporting that 12 smoked joints and four empty flasks were found after the concert.

“Based on the evidence we found afterwards, we guess 50 or 60 people were smoking pot,” Heffner said, emphasizing that the number was typical for an event that size. But, he added, “If you do the math, that’s only 3 percent.”

In addition, he insisted, “I have no indication that any Calvin students were smoking.”

For Heffner, the presence of drugs was unfortunate, but he didn’t want it to shape the discussion of the night. He hoped students would look past what a handful of people did at the concert, and focus on the music itself.

“If you come to a concert at Calvin there’s going to be far less drugs and alcohol, but to say zero is unrealistic,” Heffner said.

 “We can’t ignore that those kinds of people go to concerts,” said freshman Daniel Woodiwiss, a longstanding fan of the band.

But he wasn’t overly concerned about the issue, preferring to discuss the best parts of the performance, like the 12-minute song “Siberian Breaks,” which Woodiwiss said was “even better than I expected.”

“I don’t think we can predict if people are going to come to a concert high or sober. It was a risk we were willing to take because [MGMT’s] music is important,” Gustafson added.

Though MGMT had roots in psychedelic movements, they have since confirmed in interviews that they are not a part of that scene anymore. The band has grown in prominence, featured in festivals all over the United States and internationally.

They were nominated for Best New Artist at the 2010 Grammy awards. When MGMT, which shares an agent with Fun., had an open date in their concert tour, they approached Calvin about the possibility of a concert here.

“To some degree, seeing how well Fun. went opened the possibility” for MGMT to come, said Heffner.

At the concert, as anticipated, few people stayed in their seats. The band performed against a screen spiraling with animated designs and film clips, and many people swarmed to the floor to dance when MGMT’s more popular songs played.

Reflecting on the concert experience, “I think it’s part of engaging the culture,” Woodiwiss said. “Experiences like this are why I chose to come to Calvin College.”