(January 12, 2012 in Los Angeles, California) On stage, M83 is technically a four-piece outfit. It would be more appropriate, however, to refer to them as a 1,000-piece as delivered by four members. Their show at Nokia Theater on Thursday was a high-energy wall of sound that served to highlight the brilliance of Anthony Gonzalez's ability to paint a full, engulfing soundscape in real time.
Switching instruments by number, looping banks of synth parts and boards of pedals over live drums, and even breaking out, at points, an MPC and a Kaoss pad, M83 proved proficient in bringing their lush, powerful arrangements of deceptively simple numbers to life in three full-color dimensions. M83's set was comprised mostly of material from their 2011 opus, Hurry Up We're Dreaming, accompanied by an outstanding synced light show that downplayed the shoegaze aspects and highlighted the high energy of Gonzalez's masterful, versatile compositions.
Heavy on music and light on banter, M83 tore through about five laser-sharp numbers before Anthony Gonzalez briefly addressed the crowd to apologize for a rough start which, apparently, no one else noticed. Every number was tightly, seamlessly presented, displaying the band's aptitude for reproducing their wall-of-sound recordings in a live setting. The only big change in the live arrangement was the replacement of spoken-word parts with more guitar layering, anti-solos, and ambient vocals. As much as the presentation impressed, however, it would be a disservice to the band to neglect mention of their songwriting. For a serious act to reach this level of success, particularly if they are an electronic act, the song has to be the thing. And in the case of M83, the song is the thing. A couple years ago, Anthony Gonzalez played LA's Disney Hall with the LA Philharmonic, effectively replacing those banks upon banks of synths with chairs upon chairs of classical musicians. One gets the sense, though, that many of these songs would translate just as well to piano or to string quartet. The songs really are simply, fundamentally good.
I should make a confession here. I didn't start listening to M83 until I received a press copy of Saturdays = Youth. When I received that album, I had no idea that M83 was five albums deep. The innocent enthusiasm of that record had me convinced that they were a group of teenagers. They were a group of phenomenally talented teenagers, emerging fully formed, and I, as a composer myself, was terrified. I could not have been more impressed by that album. It was so good that I was sort of relieved to discover how seasoned Gonzalez and company actually were. And then they released Hurry Up We're Dreaming and it became obvious that this was the tipping point in the artistic development of M83. This album dusted the pack. It transitioned them from really good indie act status to brilliant artist status. If Saturdays... is M83's The Bends, Hurry Up... is their OK Computer. If Saturdays... is their Gish, Hurry Up... is their Siamese Dream.
Not only was this album a turning point in their development, but also in their career. I should point out that tickets to M83 were hard to come by. Even press passes were hard to come by. I don't think anyone anticipated the success of the single, "Midnight City." It has simply become a monster of its own. On Thursday, for instance, performances of numbers from Hurry Up, We're Dreaming were received with massive excitement. There was head-bobbing, jumping, whistling, swaying, and white kid hippie dancing during numbers like "Reunion" and "Claudia Lewis," but about four numbers in, when the band launched into "Kim & Jessie," -- one of their finest pieces -- they were met with a disconnect, a lack of recognition. And when, toward the end, they played "Midnight City," the crowd went nuts. And then, as soon as they had taken the obligatory Facebook video, and before the song was even over, a good chunk of them began filing out. I was there with a friend, fellow journalist, and this, of course, launched us into a discussion of the dark side of a hit single. The old curse of fame. And since there's no way to put this without sounding like a pretentious fool, I will just put it plainly and hope for the best. For someone who really listens to music (I know), it's sad to see people walk out on a set after they've heard, or seen, or been photographed during the hit single. If you like a band, really like them, pay attention to them. Regardless, I suppose that point is moot. M83 is a great band with a great fan base, and having a hit is always better than having no hits. Radiohead survived "Creep," right?
The best moment of this performance came during the encore. After playing a spot-on version of "Skin of the Night," the band dropped the vocals, turned down the guitars, and jammed seamlessly into an extended electronic outro that could have, in the proper venue, gone for hours. They shifted easily from concert mode to Rave mode and, in this sense, M83 may represent the future of live popular music. The ability to play a string of hits and then jam into dance mode is a rare and powerful thing. It's the quality that made The Grateful Dead more of a lifestyle than an act for so many dedicated fans. It's the thing that keeps the electronic stage open long after the main stage. It's the ability to balance feeding one's mind with losing one's mind. Dinner before dessert.
For Fans Of: Penguin Prison, Micky Moonlight, Air
See the Buzzine Gallery of the show.