M83 @ OGDEN THEATRE | 4/30/12
See Also: Q&A with Maria Linden of I Break Horses
The familiar strains of "Intro," from 2011's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, probably should have been our clue that the band was coming on. But instead, someone dressed up as the creature from the album insert walked on like a tall combination of the Mothman and one of those My Little Monster dolls. The creature came center stage and raised its arms to the tune of Zola Jesus singing the words in the triumphant and expansive tone of the song for a surreal but playful moment before the band strolled on to start the show off with the breezy and haunting "Teen Angst."
The stage set for this show really emphasized the personal-drama-writ-large aspect of the band's music and created a visual dreaminess and dynamism to the whole show, with the angled light columns illuminated from within. That, combined with the circular LEDs in at least two banks, one closer down to the band and those higher up toward the ceiling, provided contrasting colors and a visual vibrancy that boosted the impact of all the music. It was not unlike the visuals that Francis Ford Coppola used in his film One From the Heart, a lot of neon-looking lights to fit the kind of vintage synth sound of the band.
This was more of a rock show than you'd expect from this band, but the emotional delicacy was still there. The quiet section of "Graveyard Girl," when the young woman laments being fifteen and feeling like it's too late for her to find love, struck a chord in anyone who can still remember being so young and thinking everything was a crisis simply because you lack the perspective to know otherwise.
M83's music has always seemed like a salve to that side of a person's psyche, saying it's okay to have that ridiculous moment, because life is nothing if not for the times in your life when you can feel something so strongly, even if it's not based on how you will feel in five years. The material from the Saturdays=Youth album especially honors the processing of those upsurges of emotion without dismissing them as frivolous or immature.
Most of the set came from Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, but one surprise came with the performance of "Sitting," from the band's 2002 self-titled debut. "Steve McQueen" started out moody and then escalated into one of the most bombastically powerful numbers in the show. The great build and expansive intro to "Wait" seemed to elevate the song far beyond what could have been possible on a mere record. Later on in the set, the band played "Fall," from the Tron: Legacy Reconfigured soundtrack, and its incredibly heavy and moving low end was like some kind of pop dub song. The main set ended with "Don't Save Us From the Flames."
The band came back on for a kind of recasting of "Skin of the Night." The piano against the white noise in the beginning was particularly stirring on such a loud sound system. And when Morgan Kibby came in with her breathy vocals, it wasn't just a moody song, it was one that really expressed the heightened sense of reality and emotion that is the hallmark of Anthony Gonzalez's songwriting.
The synth interludes in the song were different from the original, or perhaps just more emphasized in the mix for this show, but it was vibrant in a different flavor from the studio version. The whole show came to an end with "Couleurs" after which everyone on stage bowed in honest thanks to the audience, with Gonzalez leaving the stage last.
Opening act I Break Horses was a four-piece configuration. The way the band brought its sounds together, it felt like getting to see something out of time, like a secret shoegaze band of the early '90s coming out of suspended animation and finding modern technology and two decades of music from which to draw some inspiration -- but all while not being bogged down by all the ruptures in the development of music and the political events that informed some of it.
There was something raw and fresh about this music, and frontwoman Maria Lindén had the practiced yet unvarnished presence of someone who isn't yet used to being in front of people, but the deep emotions inside her draw her to their expression. Lindén has said that she was making the live version of the music something different from the record, and she wasn't kidding. There was something robust about the sound even as its sparkles and ghostly, atmospheric feel, worthy of Lush and the Cocteau Twins, caressed the psyche.
It was like a pop incarnation of Cranes but less dark and abstract and not at all industrial. "Empty Bottles," especially, had a plaintive or even melancholic sound that had the intense delicacy of feeling you hear in Joy Division's "Atmosphere" -- much of that solemn grandeur, as well. Lindén is clearly no stranger to her personal demons, but with this music, she has been able to make something both gorgeously entrancing and cathartic.
Lindén crossed her arms across her chest and graciously thanked the audience throughout and seemed genuinely moved by the fact that the crowd was into the band. If anyone there didn't leave a bit of a fan, it would be surprising, because the performance had a warmth along the emotional and sonic force of the music. The set ended with the moody yet paradoxically uplifting "I Kill Your Love, Baby!" Only Lindén and her forest-sprite-like presence could make that kind of song seem like a gesture of affection to the people who showed up early.
Personal Bias: Ever since picking up Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts shortly after it came out, I've been wanting to see M83. Also, Hearts by I Break Horses was one of my favorite albums of 2011.
Random Detail: M83 had this great shirt where the name of the band was spelled out in a line connecting stars -- like a constellation chart.
By the Way: The drummers of both bands, Loïc Maurin of M83 and Fredrik Balck of I Break Horses, were phenomenal and really added to the impact of the music with their dynamic and emotive performances.
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