M83 at First Avenue, 11/16/11
November 16, 2011
There are some shows that are so good that they can't possibly be bound by the typical constraints of time and place, where each person who witnesses it carries a part of the performance with them for quite some time to come. Wednesday night's sold-out show by M83 at First Avenue was precisely one of those types of transcendent gigs, as the dynamic electro-pop quartet transformed the Mainroom into a roiling French discothèque during their euphoric 80-minute set.
While a lengthy music intro preceded the band, one of their crew members, dressed as a bug-eyed alien, came out on stage imploring the energy level of the overflow audience to rise. From that moment on, you just knew that the show was going to be otherworldly. The band hit the stage initially as a trio, led by M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzales, a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist who would play bass, guitar and keys throughout the performance. They settled in to the moody groove of "Intro," from the brilliant new record Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, and were eventually joined by Morgan Kibby, whose soaring vocals allowed the pensive number to take flight.
The entire performance was augmented by a stellar light show and sparkling star backdrop that only added to the ethereal nature of the performance and complimented the music all evening, especially on the slow burning "Teen Angst," which swelled to an enormous finish filled with textured keyboards and pounding rhythms. After the untethered, experimental start, the conventional pop constraints of "Kim & Jessie" seemed a bit tame at first, but the track built to a jubilant conclusion that had a good portion of the crowd dancing along with the irresistible, infectious beat.
A buoyant version of "Reunion" quickly followed, getting everyone in the club who wasn't dancing yet moving in time with the forceful pulse of the number. M83's songs simply take on an added scope and breadth in a live setting, turning from transfixing headphone music into all-consuming club anthems, enveloping everyone in the room with their massive beats and endless layers of sonic flourishes. After the percussive "Year One, One UFO," exploded into life, the band really set the place off with a stunning version of "We Own The Sky," which swelled to a massive finish led by Kibby's spiraling vocals. Gonzales got as lost in the song as the crowd did, dancing around uninhibitedly as the track drew spiritedly to a close.
The band then hit the new album pretty hard for the remainder of the set, playing five of their current songs in a row. There is a tendency to wonder with a group like M83 if they can pull off the bold soundscapes found on their record in a live setting, or if it was all just studio wizardly that made it happen. But rest assured, this band pulls it off live and then some, as the relentless rhythms of "Steve McQueen" built in intensity before an immense wave of sound washed over the crowd, sweeping us all away with their intoxicating, synth-driven bliss.
The slow-burning "Wait" gave the crowd a chance to catch their collective breath, before Gonzales brought the song to its stirring, poignant conclusion as he flailed away on his guitar while on his knees before the stacks of amps, entirely lost in the moment and the emotion of the track. Gonzales collected himself and took the time to thank his adoring audience, "Thank you so much. Are you having fun or what? This place is so historical, we are very proud to be playing here tonight." And you could tell with their impassioned, exuberant performance, M83 were indeed honored to be performing in First Avenue, though they did blow the roof off the joint.
"This Bright Flash" brought an explosive bit of energy back to the show, as did the soulful "Claudia Lewis," which featured an absolutely sick, funky bass line that had everyone's head nodding. Gonzales really drew out a lush, extended coda on "Lewis," which served as a smooth transition into an incendiary, simply massive version of "Midnight City," which really lit the fuse as the club totally erupted. The wall of sound bounced from one side of the room to the next as the spiraling stereophonic sound system of the club was truly tested, and indeed passed with flying colors. I've never heard the Mainroom sound so crystal clear when the volume was at that level.
Rather than drop the energy level of the club even a bit, M83 actually built on their momentum with a fiery version of the instrumental "A Guitar And A Heart," which, true to its name, featured a heavy dose of blazing guitars. It was a breathless close to the main set, but we hadn't seen anything yet. The encore was going to be a doozy.
After a brief break, the band returned to a stage bathed in blood red lights, which was perfectly fitting for a glorious version of "Skin Of The Night." Kibby simply owned the elegant track, as her vibrant vocals easily filled the room. Even Gonzales was blown away by her performance, as he dropped to his knees in front of her while thrashing away wildly on his guitar.
At this point there was only one way the band could possibly close a show like this, and that was with a turbulent, 10+ minute version of "Couleurs," which brought the night dramatically to a close. Midway through the number, Gonzales tinkered around with his box of sonic tricks in front of him, and generated a full-on electronica beat, turning First Ave. into a sweaty, tumultuous dance party that left everyone breathless and spent. As the band gathered at the front of the stage to thank their fans and soak in the enormous ovation, it was clear that all of us, band and fans alike, would remember this night for quite a while.
Critic's Bias: I have been fortunate to have seen M83 a few times before (including both their performances at the Triple Rock), but I have to say this was the best of the lot.
The Crowd: As full as First Avenue can get. I can't imagine what this show would have been like if it would've been held at the Varsity Theater as it was first planned.
Overheard In The Crowd: Thankfully, not much of anything as the music completely drowned out all of the inane chatter.
Random Notebook Dump: Without question this was one of my favorite shows of 2011.
For More Photos: See our full slideshow by Erik Hess.
Kim & Jessie
Year One, One UFO
We Own The Sky
This Bright Flash
A Guitar And A Heart
Skin Of The Night (Encore)
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