M83 shines in Boston

A review of M83 at the House of Blues on November 20, 2011

, Staff Writer

2011 has been a good year for Anthony Gonzalez, the creative force behind M83. Last month’s release of his sixth album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, has been met with widespread acclaim, and is undoubtedly going to be making its way to the top of a number of best-of lists when December rolls around. The record is the perfect hybrid of M83’s more electronic-focused earlier work and the synthpop that defined Saturdays = Youth. Gonzalez and his band have taken the album out on tour, and they stopped by the House of Blues to give what the lead singer described as the biggest performance he’s ever had.

Right off the bat, the audience knew it was in for a treat. Gonzalez and the rest of the band have done a great job turning themselves into rock stars – these guys have an amazing stage presence, and they were some of the best dancers at the venue that night. It wasn’t too surprising when they opened with “Intro”, but that didn’t make the track any less exciting to hear. The band walked out amidst waves of heavy synthesizer layers, which slowly faded into the now familiar opening lines of the tune. Of course, the quiet voice of a woman whispering – which has become an M83 trademark at this point – was sampled, and then Gonzalez started singing. At first, it almost sounded like his own voice was being sampled – he was spot on, hitting all of his notes. A vast expanse of lights and equipment opened up in front of the crowd, and the show was underway.

After the opener came “Teen Angst” from 2005’s Before The Dawn Heals Us. It’s a moodier, more shoegaze-y piece than what M83’s last two albums have been, but it was nice to see older tunes represented. The House of Blues was resonating with sound as the song reached its peak, and old fans were very happy to hear some of their more antiquated favorites given some love.

The entire band was spot-on right from the start, but drummer Loïc Maurin did the brunt of the heavy lifting all evening. He got a great sound out of his set, keeping consistent rhythm and giving everyone something to groove to. Right from the first fill of “Intro’ you could tell that this band was clicking, thanks in no small part to the engaging and consistent drumming of Maurin. Which isn’t say to the rest of the band didn’t do a stellar job, too – keyboardist and backup singer Morgan Kibby enraptured the audience with her voice and synth-work. Multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lawlor filled in any musical holes present, and, of course, Gonzalez served as the front-man. His enthusiasm was hard to deny, and everyone was absolutely willing to go along with whatever he asked.

“Reunion” was a particularly notable performance – although for the most part M83 stayed pretty faithful to their recordings, they weren’t afraid to open tunes up a little it. After hitting a tremendous chorus, the band quieted things down, and all of a sudden they were in a jam. Granted, it was a pretty short one, but it was exciting to see them trod off the beaten path just a little bit.

Although Gonzalez and company certainly showed their ability to drive the crowd into a dance party frenzy, they were also able to slow things down quite nicely. “Wait” was an unexpected, though pleasant, surprise. It can sandwiched between “Steve McQueen” and “This Bright Flash”, two raucous tunes in their own right. “Wait” was easily the most subdued part of the show – most of the performance was left to Gonzalez, strumming away on an acoustic guitar, eventually building to a nice climax. The crowd was actually fairly quiet throughout the performance, eager to let the singer get his words out unimpeded. It was a rare concert moment where the slow ballad is given its proper due, and the show was that much better for it.

It wasn’t until the end of the set that M83 delivered the beloved single (and Victoria’s Secret soundtrack) “Midnight City”. Naturally, this gave everyone that quick burst of energy needed to make it through the rest of the show, and it was certainly appreciated. The main set closed out with “A Guitar And A Heart”, a nefarious assault of synthesizer reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days”.

Returning after a quick break, the band delivered “Skin of the Night”, which brought Kibby’s vocals to the forefront. The final tune, “Couleurs”, may have been the single greatest performance of the night. The House of Blues erupted into a crazy dance party as the beat drove forward. Gonzalez proudly shouted out “Boston!” before bringing the tune around to its final climax, which got everyone moving. He even went so far as to show his appreciation for the crowd by holding out his hands in a heart shape, which the audience naturally responded to.

Although it was a relatively early evening – M83’s set was over and done with by 10:15 – the show was filled with some fantastic moments, and everyone left absolutely pleased with what they were given. Although there’s plenty of material in the double album that is Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming to fill an entire show, the band was kind enough to throw in plenty of old favorites form previous records. It’s always nice when performers are willing to represent their entire body of work in a given performance, so even the most hardcore fans couldn’t complain about the material. With crazy, flashing lights, a serious rock star mentality and absolutely adoring fans, there’s no reason M83 can’t continue their steady march of progress for the next several years.

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