M83 is a complex group of galaxies in the Hydra, Centaurus, and Virgo constellations.
It is also the name of french musician Anthony Gonzalez's band, originating in Antibes, France in 2001 and now based in Los Angeles. Like the constellation, M83 is an ever-evolving entity, with a seemingly different lineup on each recording. They are currently touring North America as a four-piece, and touched down for a night on their tour at the Wonder Ballroom on Friday evening, 11/11/11.
Although initially the attendance was sparse, as it approached 9 pm the venue was quickly packed with young people, murmuring in excitement and restlessly waiting for the opening band to kick off the show. Active Child, a three-piece also from Los Angeles, quietly entered the stage and placed themselves behind their respective instruments. They were excellent, playing a kind of ethereal, moody, synthetic dream-pop, but elicited only a marginal response from the audience. Concert-goers clapped quietly after songs, and a few seemed to genuinely love the band, but the group's wintry sound wasnât an effective build up the energetic music that was to follow.
After Active Child finished, the restless excitement of the crowd was palpable as the dense pack of 15- to 20-somethings waited for M83 to come to the stage. The road crew set up a few instruments, tuned a couple guitars, and then left. More tense anticipation, and then finally the show started. Someone in a black cloak and a strange, feathered alien maskâthe same one gracing the covers of their new album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming and its single, Midnight Cityâappeared out of the fog and black lights. The stage was laid out like some kind of psychedelic space station, with multicolored fluorescent tubes, rays of candy-colored light, and a backdrop of stars. The figure stood very still, slowly raising its arms as the ambient, bubbling opening of "Intro" started to rumble the venue. The swirling synthetic noises built to a climax, and the creature ran off. With the excitement of the crowd building the band rushed onstage and in place to play the rest of the opener.
The set mostly included songs from Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, as well as a handful from Saturdays = Youth. The songs flowed perfectly together, from the exuberance of âReunionâ to the melancholy âSkin of the Nightâ. The band's live sound was immersive and overwhelming, very loud and very full. Their synth-bass made ribs vibrate, and the pounding drum beats wouldn't have sounded out of place on a mid-80's Cure album. Also in the mix were thick shoegaze guitar effects and Anthony Gonzalez & Morgan Kibby's dreamy, soft vocals, hardly perceptible over the blasting, emotional wall of sound. M83 suggest a strong '80s influence, filtered through 21st century technology, song-writing and production techniques, and are amongst a growing group of indie and alternative bands that are dipping back into 30-year old New Wave and Post Punk sounds for inspiration.
The audience was energetic, but mostly calm. One teenager kept bumping into and elbowing people, accusing the other concert goers of âindie bopping,â but his attempts to start a mosh pit were futile. This was music to be savored. People closed their eyes, swayed, danced exuberantly to the more danceable songs, like âMidnight Cityâ and âKim & Jessieâ. The atmosphere was almost introspective. A mosh pit at an M83 concert is like
head-banging at a Smith's show. When M83 played their newest single, âMidnight Cityâ, it was particularly poignant when Gonzalez emotively yelped âThe city is my church, it wraps my up in sparkling twilightâ. M83 make powerful music for young dreamers, navigating a world that is big, occasionally scary, but fresh and exciting.
Throughout the concert, one got the sense that this was a band that cared. Their music is personal and emotional, suggesting the ups and downs that every teenager experiences.
At one point during a break between song Gonzalez made a personal shout-out to âfour kidsâ that traveled from Denver, Colo. to just to see the band. At the end of the show, the band, exhausted but beaming, made heart-shapes with their hands, holding them out to the enraptured audience. They seemed to say âWe're M83. We care, and we made this music just for you.â