Sunday, May 20, 2012

M83 Live: Floating Above Stubb's

All of the video footage that I have ever seen of M83 indicated that their live performances matched their epic recordings, earning them a place on my bucket list of “bands to see.” M83 has come to town three times since Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming came out last year, though, and each time, tickets were snatched up within hours. Since I have a profound issue with supporting the ticket scalping industry, I missed them. As this pattern repeated, I was becoming increasingly concerned that I would miss out on this tour. Fortunately, my wife’s principles are not nearly so limiting, so I was pleasantly surprised when she told me that she had gotten us some tickets. I was ecstatic.  Let the date night commence!

Stubb’s outdoor amphitheater was packed, and with all the people in the street asking about tickets, it seemed that M83 might consider booking a larger venue. I get that the club and amphitheater setting is more personal, but at some point an artist kind of owes it to their fans to play at an appropriately sized space. M83’s music would certainly translate well into an arena, but that type of venue is far too unhip, aloof, and 1985 for today’s indie-conscious music consumer to accept.

Regardless, as I looked out onto the crowd, I noticed the anticipation brewing among the groups of young people who had obviously come to the show together. M83 has the same potential, I think, to appeal to both intellect and aesthetic that Rush had in the 80s. I bonded with many of my friends through our common musical interests, and despite the inherent isolation of IPod culture, these young people seemed to share a similar bond. I wondered what they might be doing when they reach my age, and what they might be listening to as they look back on this evening at Stubb’s.

After the opening band I Break Horses, the lights finally dimmed and the inexplicable purple-furred alien that graces the liner notes of Hurry Up, We're Dreaming appeared out of the darkness, raising his hand to bless the crowd. M83 launched into their now-iconic opening track Intro. The guest vocals of Zola Jesus are integral in the original, so I would not have been surprised if they were reproduced in playback. I appreciated seeing regular band member Morgan Kibby take the vocals and make them her own.

In fact, since the production of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is so profoundly epic in scope, I would not have been surprised if M83 had significant “play-along” component in their live show, where the sequencing bears the burden of performance and the band just follows along. I was pleasantly impressed to find that they were much more live than I expected. Although there is certainly a component of automation it doesn’t hold the band back in any way. In fact, these often simple ostinato riffs that lead man Anthony Gonzalez manipulates from his mysteriously wired black and neon box seem to act as a tether during the performance, keeping the band from being swept off the stage by their own impassioned delivery.

I thought that their set would focus primarily on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, but they played a wide variety of songs from their entire catalog. Although they have had some changes towards more direct songwriting on their more recent works, listening to them jump around in their catalog made me notice just how cohesive Gonzalez’s oeuvre actually is. 

My wife asked me if anyone else had made music like M83 before, and I said that what makes M83 so compelling is that they recombine familiar things in a new way. I pondered this question for awhile as their expansive sound indescribably floated, up, out, and over above the crowd before I realized: although M83 has a wall of sound that is similar in structure to the one erected by My Bloody Valentine in 1990, this wall is constructed by the explorations of French synthesist Jean-Michel Jarre – a palpable connection that I felt dumb for overlooking. Neither of these obvious influences emphasized songcraft too strongly, however, so with M83’s increasing interest in composition and songwriting, they are emerging as a unique entity.

M83 has, in the last three years, clawed their way up in my personal ranks.  Saturdays=Youth has become a latter-day classic, and the further artistic success of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming last year was pushing M83 into the ranks of my all-time favorites.  Their transcendental performance at Stubb's last night has clinched the deal: with Gonzalez’s strength of vision, I consider them to be the best musical find that I have encountered since Mew in 2005, as well as a show worth attending if you have the interest and opportunity. Just don’t wait, though, because the tickets will sell out – I guarantee it.

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