I remember when M83 released their breakthrough album Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts back when I was in college. M83 easily fit in my collection with groups like The Postal Service and The Notwist, yet the album had no vocalist to connect it with mankind. The occasional words were only samples; it was like a glimpse at a dystopian future, where maybe people weren’t even around anymore. I could imagine their core member Anthony Gonzalez in his French chateau, sitting at his laptops and keyboards, writing minimalist, electronic soundtracks for lonely bedrooms.
M83 has evolved tremendously since then; while their current music retains its electro roots, it’s all in all more varied, more approachable, more poppy, more epic. Their new material makes for a hell of a live show, too. They sold out two shows at Black Cat on Friday night; I stopped by the late show to see what they had to offer. The show had exactly what I want from live electronic music – infectious beats, atmospheric lighting, and an enthusiastic crowd.
The opener Active Child felt like a band who accepted a challenge: make dark pop music with falsetto vocals and harps. I never would’ve expected this to work, but something about their tunes caught my attention. Frontman Pat Grossi’s lyrics sometimes fell into sad-sap cliches, but musically, I liked the sparseness of the bass lines on one end and the high-pitched, gentle melodies on the other. The group seemed a good match for M83’s slower tracks – good for introspection and head-nodding, but not so good for dancing.
After a French-accented mic check, the four touring members of M83 took the stage to a background of smoke and bright LED lights. They opened with “Intro” and “Midnight City”, two of the catchier songs from their newest album Hurry Up We’re Dreaming. “Midnight City” immediately became one of my favorite tracks – it sounds like Neon Indian, very minimal and chill, until it erupts with a screaming saxophone line at the end. At a M83 show, you don’t dance 100% of the time. Not even 83% of the time. You might start standing still, but as a song grows, all of a sudden you find yourself dancing.
Anthony humbly announced that this was one of the first times they had played the new material live, but the tracks went off without a hitch. Their singer Morgan Kibby seemed overjoyed to be a part of M83; their bassist, on the other hand, just seemed amused by all the attention. He would make goofy faces at his fans, before jumping on risers in the back to strike an AC/DC-inspired pose.
The setlist mostly consisted of new material and songs from 2008’s Saturdays=Youth. I expected to be disappointed at the lack of older material, but honestly, the new songs are much more energetic, and worked better with a four-piece band. Still, there were a couple of vocal-less tracks that stood out that night for getting the most people dancing. The set closer “Couleurs”, for example, sounded more like a house track than the rest of the M83 catalog, with its bass line pumping from the first note of the song to the last. With tracks like these, M83 was able to ebb and flow between moments of high and low energy, so that the show felt balanced throughout. If you’ve neglected listening to M83’s newer albums (like me), don’t let that stop you from checking out their live show if you get a chance.