Although the Manhattan skies hung ominously gray over the Sculpture Garden at the MoMA last night, the threat of rain was not enough to deter patrons of the museum from experiencing another medium of modern art: music. As a part of MoMA Nights, Ducktails, the solo project of Real Estate frontman Matthew Mondanile, enveloped the audience in its gentle, psychedelic pop sounds.
Quickly setting up, Mondanile and company situated themselves next to Claes Oldenburg’s sculpture, Geometric Mouse, Scale A, and shyly tested their equipment. The band, sporting long, unkempt hair and thrifted wardrobes, was a stark contrast from the sea of patrons scattered across the garden, seemingly indifferent to the band, relishing their bruschetta and coffee. But Ducktails managed to grab the audience’s attention by inundating them with thier expansive, hazy tunes.
With a majority of the crowd unfamiliar with the band’s sound (such as the elderly audience member sitting with her hands covering her ears), Ducktails was free of fan expectations. Among the opening tracks familiarizing the crowd with their style was a cover of Peter Gutteridge’s “Planet Phrom.” Mondanile lazily moaned, “Out past the stars that shine/Making love with my alien wife.” The whispery vocals wrapped themselves around the audience members, transporting them to the dreamy world described in the song’s lyrics.
Throughout the set, Ducktails was joined by many guests—some planned, and some not. Shortly after the band began to play, a curly-haired toddler broke free from his mother and joined them onstage. With the limelight on the toddler, he began to steal the show, squealing with glee and dancing. The crowd seemed to adore the boy, and Mondanile himself encouraged the kid to dance, even as the toddler’s mother attempted to coax him away from the band. While the kid remained onstage dancing, Mondanile regained the crowd’s attention through an impressive outro solo. During “Letter of Intent,” Jessa Farkas of Future Shuttle also came onstage to sing her vocal part featured in the song. Although the song is one of Ducktails’ most popular songs, the live version didn’t do the track any justice. Farkas vocals felt exhausted and half-hearted compared to the recorded version, making this special segment of the show a bust.
But Mondanile and co. quickly turned things around. Mondanile himself was extremely energetic, shaking his long hair playfully as he whispered soothing lyrics into the mic. After closing the penultimate track with an instrumental jam, flush with dissonance and a squealing saxophone, the band prepared themselves for the finale. They closed with a sultry tune composed of a jazzy piano riff. Near the end of the song, the band joined their saxophonist during a free reign improv solo. The saxophonist’s fingers flew as he covered various arpeggios and rearranged scale structures, turning red in the face while the rest of the band kept their cool.
Photos by Angel E. Fraden.