M83 | I Break Horses The Pageant May 2, 2012
The crowd at the M83 show last night was ecclectic. Girls wearing their best Forever 21 skirts, middle aged men and women sprinkled in the balcony and a parade of bros, hipsters and people looking generally out of place. That's what happens when there is a breaking band on the stage. M83 is on the cusp of mainstream success. With a gutsy, critically acclaimed double album, 2011's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, a song featured in a Victoria's Secret commercial and a string of high-profile festival gigs, the band is only getting bigger.
Not that it's small now. The sold-out crowd looked oddly sparse until the band snuck on stage to play its first song, "Intro" off Hurry Up. Even without the extraterrestial vocals of Zola Jesus's Nika Danilova, the track delivered goose-bumps like a winter morning. The crowd responded by cramming tight to the stage. The woman in front of me was so close that I had to keep brushing her well-conditioned locks off my notebook.
As with many shows featuring a band with such a rapidly expanding fan base, the crowd was tepid, only really roaring and dancing along to "Midnight City" and "Couleurs" off Saturdays = Youth -- the second track of the two-song encore. When the band played a song like "Steve McQueen" the crowd seemed lost.
The band, too, was somewhat hit and miss. The biggest hit was multi-intrumentalist Jordan Lawlor. He is an absolute joy to watch and a rare presence on stage. When he stood on the bass drum during "Couleurs" and began asking everyone to clap, it became clear that he was more capable of leading a band himself. When lead singer/guitarist Anthony Gonzalez turned towards him, with a nonplussed look on his face, the blond Lawlor replied by stretching his arms out, giving a shug, and mouthing "Why not?" before commanding the crowd to clap in unison. And when he freed himself from his bass duties to play next to vocalist/keyboardist Morgan Kibby during "Sitting", the night's most rave frindly song, I couldn't take my eyes off him. For someone who intones with a shrug, Lawlor was in charge whenever he made his presence known. Unlike Gonzalez, who is the mastermind of M83, Lawlor took full advantage of the vast Pageant stage and stalked the room during "Sitting" and "Fall" -- a Daft Punk cover.
Meanwhile, Anthony's rhythmless gyrations did not escape his synth, or Kibby later on in the night. He possesses none of Lawlor's hypnotizing nonchalance. This is the rare ensemble where other members of the band generate a bigger response than the frontman. The prize for the largest applause goes to the band's sax player. He came out on the stage, during "Midnight City" and "Couleurs" to evoke a vision of The Lost Boys boardwalk concert, and leave so suddenly that his presence felt like a mirage. The naysayers talk about M83's "monotonous" progression of jams. True, the songs do tend to bleed together like a kindergartner's first experiment with water colors. At times, the music was downright boring. The band follows a formula, well tested by arena rockers. It's a formula exemplified by U2, Coldplay and -- the band M83 reminded me of all night -- Muse. The sharp ascension into a brewed mass and volume of sound, the quick drop-off into a teetering space of "will they or won't they drop the beat," then the inevitable crash back into the loudest, most visceral aspects of a track. The followed this formula until "Wait." The ninth song of the night was a welcome reprieve. It is a slow, sleepy dive into ignorance. It revolves around the notion of forgetting your problems, because there is not enough time in this world to toil in misery.
Opening Act: The Swedish duo I Break Horses could be M83's kid sister, or maybe Beach House's anxious cousin. Either way, when I asked attendees how they felt about after the show many said, "I'm a fan now."
Random Detail: Despite tight security, I smelled a spliff or two being lit up through the night.
Overheard: Only four seconds went by before someone expressed her true feelings for Jordan Lawlor. "I LOVE HIM ALREADY." I think it was the hair. Definitely the hair.
Disney World Nostalgia: M83 is part-fantasy, part frank weirdness. Before the band headed on stage, the audience was greeted by the wacky creature off the cover of the Midnight City single. I couldn't help but remember the Alien Encounter ride. When both aliens arrive, there is enough throbbing strobe lights to strike up a seizure.
Set List: Intro Teen Angst Graveyard Girl Reunion Sitting Year One, One UFO We Own the Sky Steve McQueen Wait Fall (Daft Punk cover) This Bright Flash Midnight City A Guitar and a Heart Encore: Skin of the Night Couleurs