The Music Box
Better than: Having to actually be 16 again.
At the risk of completely disavowing any claims of critical distance, this was the concert event of 2011 for yours truly and I don't care who knows it. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is my favorite record of the year by a long stretch and Saturdays=Youth was the same back in 2008.
Somehow, a record as epic and emotionally bulldozing as Before The Dawn Heals Us is this guy's fourth-best album. My companion for the evening was fully debriefed about how things might get a little dusty if they played "Graveyard Girl."
But it felt like there was at stake than merely a snarky-ass music writer being reduced to a gelatinous heap of emo genes (typical midset palate cleanser: "My Tears Are Becoming A Sea"). While Hurry Up is something of a comprehensive survey of everything M83 has done since Anthony Gonzalez started composing ambient doodles back in France, it's also the beginning phase in the experiment of M83: Rock Stars. When I spoke to Gonzalez prior to the release of Hurry Up, he was rather candid in admitting towards its commercial aspirations. In short, he wouldn't mind being Coldplay or Daft Punk, but somehow combining both of their profiles is the ultimate goal.
Is it working? Well, Hurry Up debuted at #15 on the Billboard charts, last night's show sold out almost immediately, and as if "Midnight City" wasn't already laser-guided enough towards the affections of teenage boys, it's now in a Victoria's Secret ad. (Which also answered the question of what was left to make that song better than it already is.) It wasn't the first time M83 had packed this place, and the expectation was that this would be something of a farewell celebration from a band whose sound and profile have outgrown clubs. Did they pull it off?
It's tough to say. Above all else, M83 seeks to soundtrack the vertiginous slopes of your emotions, making a personality vacuum at their shows something of a necessity. L.A. resident Nika Danilova, aka Zola Jesus, appears for "Intro" (most misleadingly mundane title ever!) and showed why the partnership was so inspired. While Danilova is a magnetic stage presence, she often lacks hooks that are its equal. Meanwhile, while Anthony Gonzalez has written so many overpowering, hormone-triggering synth-pop masterworks, well...it's still tough to see him as something other than a guy most comfortable hunched over a bank of keyboards.
Because while Hurry Up's most immediately identifiable precedents are Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Pink Floyd's The Wall, those are two of the most ego-fueled, misanthropic records to ever sell more than 10 million copies. Trust me, I hope for everyone's sake that Gonzalez isn't learning any sort of people skills from Billy Corgan or Roger Waters, but as extroverted as he sounds on Hurry Up (opening for the Killers, Depeche Mode and even Kings Of Leon proved to be an influence), Gonzalez is still learning on the job when it comes to being a rock star as opposed to just a frontman.
After "Intro" his voice strained badly on "Reunion," and when White Sea's powerhouse vocalist/keyboardist Morgan Kibby took the lead on "We Own The Sky," Gonzalez sounded a bit overmatched. Meanwhile, stage banter was minimal if nonexistent, and he seemed most in his element bashing through the instrumental passages of "One Year, One UFO" and an extended closer which gave nods towards Pink Floyd's mighty "One Of These Days."
But perhaps playing the role of ringleader rather than showman can be a good thing in a setting like the Music Box. Gonzalez has always been a master of visual accompaniment for his music, and drawing entirely from 2005's skyscraping Before The Dawn Heals Us and going forward, M83 was backed by strong neons and fluorescents, scrolling LEDs and planetarium lighting that almost makes you wish the day-glo synth assaults of "Teen Angst" and "We Own The Sky" aren't the sort of thing that's probably good to get high to.
So really, it comes down to whether you're invested in M83's music or M83 themselves: if it's the former, your only disappointment was the brevity of the set. They could play an hour's worth of material before the encore without "Don't Save Us From The Flames," "Couleurs," "Graveyard Girl" or anything from their breakthrough Red Seas, Dead Cities & Lost Ghosts. (Though to be fair, M83 was a strictly electronic duo at that point). If it's the latter, well...it's unclear what more Gonzalez could do to make himself bigger than the sound.
But with even bigger festival slots likely on the way, hell, maybe it's just more kickass light fixtures.
Personal bias: For fuck's sake, make "Steve McQueen" a single before the 2011 "Single of the Year" voting closes.
The crowd: Adrien Grenier was there. I'm having all kinds of trouble trying to wrestle meaning from that.
Random notebook dump: Everyone would stop bitching about the use of "Midnight City" to sell push-up bras if they knew Gonzalez was using that Victoria Secret's money for an on-call saxman to play the outro live.
Intro (ft. Zola Jesus)
Kim & Jessie
Year One, One UFO
My Tears Are Becoming A Sea
We Own The Sky
This Bright Flash
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A Guitar And A Heart (thanks to commenter G3K)
Skin Of The Night