First City Festival features MGMT, Passion Pit, Modest Mouse and more
Herald Staff Writer
POSTED: 08/20/2013 03:39:10 PM PDT | UPDATED: 6 DAYS AGO

There's no denying that Andrew VanWyngarden and his psychedelic rock band MGMT have achieved full-blown rock stardom.

VanWyngarden and the band are headlining festivals, including this weekend's inaugural First City Festival at the Monterey County Fair & Event Center in Monterey. It has performed in front of 10,000 fans. It's completely revived psychedelic rock while balancing serious musicianship with a fun vibe and spirit that has added to the band's popularity.

But even a rock star like VanWyngarden can reveal a sense of whimsy at the thought of performing in the land of Monterey Pop.

"Oh, that's awesome," VanWyngarden said after confirming with a reporter that First City Festival will take place in the same venue as the 1967 Monterey International Pop Music Festival. "That alone is pretty cool to know. I watched the (D.A. Pennebaker) movie a couple of times."

First City Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday and features more than 30 national touring bands, primarily of the indie rock variety. MGMT, Modest Mouse, Passion Pit, Neko Case, Beach House and Toro y Moi are among those that will perform across three stages.

The full lineup is available at Along with plenty of interactive content about the bands, the site's lineup page includes a feature that allows fans to organize their schedules based on the bands they want to see.

For VanWyngarden, playing festivals has become one of his favorite developments since the band hit it big with its 2007 major label debut, "Oracular Spectacular."

The large stage festival set-up also allows the band to play with big visual accompaniment, which has become a staple of its live shows.

"I love playing outside and a lot of times festivals will have pretty huge, huge LED walls, and the visual side of live concerts has been a big thing for us the past few years," said VanWyngarden, whose band is known for its psychedelic rock sound that lends itself to fantastic light shows.

MGMT has a new, self-titled album that is set to be released in September. The band's Monterey set will feature several songs from that album, including the hit single "Your Life is a Lie."

The music video features quick cuts and flashes of imagery that reference song lyrics in often humorous fashion. As music site describes it — "skeletons, a talking dolphin ... a crying rock, books by Daryl Oates and John Hall."

"Originally, we were thinking about that Bob Dylan video from the '60s, where he has a different sign for the words in the song," VanWyngarden said, referencing Dylan's classic "Subterranean Homesick Blues" clip. "Just something that has that sort of kooky, psychedelic feel to it."

VanWyngarden and MGMT are one of the more established bands on the bill. It will perform in one of the prime late Saturday night main stage slots.

Ryan Merchant and his band Capital Cities are in a position to achieve similar success.

Capital Cities broke out this summer with the hit song "Safe and Sound," a funky combination of layered synthesizers and horn loops that fits right in with the updated disco sound that has dominated radio summer playlists (see Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" for example).

Merchant, 32, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and has fond recollections of visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Dennis the Menace park as a child. He knows the Monterey Peninsula fairly well.

"I have taken a lot of day trips to the aquarium. It was the only aquarium that had a great white shark in captivity," said Merchant. "The Dennis the Menace Park, for some reason, that park is etched in my memory as the most epic children's park."

The band's buzz has grown with the summer release of its debut album "In A Tidal Wave of Mystery." The video for "Safe and Sound" also earned two MTV Video Music Award nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction.

"If I just think back to the last month or two months and think about the things we've done, like just getting to play on 'The Jimmy Kimmel Show' is a huge accomplishment," said Merchant of the band's extraordinary summer success. "The process has been so gradual, and it's been a step-by-step building block process. We've been kind of prepared every step of the way."

Even though the band formed in 2010 and is relatively new, Merchant said the success feels natural given the amount of work they've put into their music.

"There's a part of me that feels because we put in the work, we deserve to be in the position we're in," he said. "I'm not overly awestruck by the whole thing."

Heading into First City Festival, Merchant said he's excited to see Beach House. Capital Cities performed at a festival in Montreal recently with Beach House on the same bill, but Merchant did not get a chance to see them perform.

"They're probably the band I'm most excited for. I've been a huge fan of their two albums," he said. "I haven't met them yet. I'm excited to meet them."