M83 // I Break Horses 05.18.12
Having been a M83 fan for quite sometime now, I was looking forward to this past Friday’s show at Stubb’s for months. It’s been interesting to study the band evolve over the last several albums from an experimental shoegaze outfit to a chart topping powerhouse act that sells out shows. The psychic weight of anticipation can sometimes skew the perception of an actual event, but this sense assaulting performance left little room for analytical thoughts anyway. I have to admit forgetting how hyped I was and just getting caught up in the noise.
A rewarding experience for any concertgoer is being surprised with an opening act they’ve never heard of and are actually taken with. I Break Horses was a good pairing for M83, setting the tone and continually raising the stakes through their too short set. They wore their My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain influences on their sleeve; buried vocals, walls of sound, emotionally ambiguous melodies and a nod toward pop sensibility. They also carved out their own sound with organic song structures that allowed the music to build naturally; what generally started as just a synth drone or high school prom drumbeat ended up being a full on spiritual release. My rule of thumb for excellent shoegaze is “does it give you goosebumps?” The last 2 minutes of this set had my hairs standing up and sent a genuine shiver through my spine. I went home and dug up every track I could find.
It was a big night for M83 as well. This was their 100th show and they pulled all the stops to make it a memorable one, even making quite an entrance. As the lights went low and the “Intro” track from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming played, the alien/monster/fantasy creature from the album’s art emerged and stood in front of the audience. In a moment not unlike Klaatu’s arrival on Earth, he slowly raised his hands over us, blessing the night’s show and empowering the crowd. …Far Out. When he lowered his arms, the band launched into what would be a full hour and half set that spanned their entire catalog.
At the first beat of the first measure of “Teen Angst,” the girl directly in front of me collapsed. I don’t know if it was epilepsy, drugs, locked knees, the alien on stage or her seeing Anthony Gonzales in person for the first time, but that was when I knew without a doubt things were getting very real.
Lead songwriter Gonzales is known for being a perfectionist. None of his other cohorts are considered full-time members of the group, but M83 came across as a very tight and well-rehearsed act. Big props to Jordan Lawler, the young kid that “won” his way on tour during the YouTube auditions M83 held last fall. Given his stage presence you would think he had been touring for years with the group. He was all over the stage and, at one point, led a full on dance party as he faced off with Morgan Kibby at her synth station during the incorrectly titled “Sitting.” I don’t see how any one sits through that track. Kibby, who records on her own as White Sea, is always a welcome angelic addition. Her Kate Bush like voice finds the space between the ambience and the shear drive of the reverb soaked chord progressions that define M83’s style and she owned “We Own the Sky.” Loic Maurin’s drum set was elevated over the others and it was nice to be able to see and anticipate every powerful fill and emotive cymbal crash that was about to hit you in the face.
When “Midnight City” started I feared the show was over, but the group used it to pivot into a more steady, subdued, almost house-y last quarter of the guantlet run, where songs like “Kim & Jessie” and “Colours” (from their John Hughes’ inspired Saturdays = Youth LP) could find the room to breathe. When the set did finally close, there was no encore, but it felt right. M83, the band named for a galaxy, had made their statement.
Here’s to another 100 shows.
P.S. There were no less than 2 extended saxophone solos at this gig.