Sunday, April 22, 2012
Better than: Listening to the thump of a house beat through a wall.
M83, the discogaze project of one L.A. transplant named Anthony Gonzalez, opened its U.S. tour at the Fillmore last night, in the first of two sold-out San Francisco shows. Following a year that saw him grab lots of acclaim with the double album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, and its hit single, "Midnight City," we were interested to see how Gonzalez would adapt his bedroom-born futurescapes to the live stage. And while it's likely that devoted fans will enjoy the show -- there was no shortage of applause last night -- the band's repetitive dynamics and minimum of musical ideas left us with a few complaints. Here are six notes on last night's show:
1. Anthony Gonzalez is an adorable presence. Effusing gratitude after the first three songs, the singer thanked "San Franceeesco" in his French-Spanish lisp and appeared to be genuinely surprised that, after a Victoria's Secret TV commercial, a hit single, and a No. 1 spot on a Pitchfork year-end list, a some people were excited to see him play.
2. No gold ribbons, buxom models, $100 bills, graphite rainbows, or DVDs of Blade Runner rained down from the ceiling when M83 played "Midnight City." Thus dashing our expectations of transcendence or at least a cool story. The song wasn't even among the highlights of the night -- maybe all those TV spots wore it out -- but the bro-y dudes in the crowd did stick around around after "Midnight City" ended, to our surprise.
3. Nearly every M83 song relied upon the same formula: Start, build, pause, climax, repeat. Some began with just ambient wisps that took years to go anywhere ("Skin of the Night"); some introduced their main idea more quickly ("Midnight City"), some had vocals, some didn't. But most songs played last night contained basically one main melodic idea with a few variations, and spent their duration introducing that idea, making it louder, quickly taking it away, and then building it back up again. The cycle became easily predictable over the course of an hour.
4. Nearly every M83 song was about (or at least evoked) the same feeling. Which we'll call "driving through the city at night," or "self-assured wowedness." The synths and guitars pile on each other, forming a single, maximalist swoop. The vocals are tone devices, not tools for delivering the meaning of words. (Yes, it was very funny to hear the crowd "sing" along to that unintelligible yelp that constitutes the refrain of "Midnight City.") The drums, when they appear, propel the song forward in a straight line, following behind a blunt-force melody. And the resulting feeling is one of a wide-angle perspective on some futuristic setting -- complex, dark-hued, mysterious, and huge. But unfortunately M83's tone-painting always results in pretty much the same picture.
5. This tour includes a dazzling light show. It was one of the best light shows for a stage this size that we've seen in a while: a starry night backdrop, diagonal light tubes dividing up the width of the stage, and frequent synchronization with the music. It didn't quite carry the show through the slow moments, but it sure helped.
6. When the band raced off into one of its high-energy songs, the result could be genuinely exhilarating. A trio of numbers early in the set -- the airy chase of "Graveyard Girl," the shimmering discogaze of "Reunion," and the future-folk of "Year One, One UFO" -- made for the best run of the show to our ears. They didn't produce much actual dancing, unlike the faux-techno of encore-closer "Couleurs," say. But coupled with lots of pelvic-thrusting from Gonzelz and wild hair-tossing from collaborator Morgan Kibby, they were the moments when the energy of the performance peaked, before the sense of rote repetition set in.
Unanswered questions: 1. Why was there a guy with five laptops by the side of the stage, and was he really playing all the music? 2. Why did the sound man disappear from behind the board for the last 20 or so minutes, thus making it so that no one could hear the sax player solo on the final song? 3. Why, two-thirds of the way through the set, and seemingly apropos of nothing, did Gonzalez ask, "Does anyone have some crack? I want to smoke some crack?"
Overheard quote that most conflicts with our impression of the show: "It was one of the best concerts I've seen in a long time" -- dude walking down Fillmore afterwards, talking to friends.
Year One, One UFO
We Own the Sky
This Bright Flash
A Guitar and a Heart
Skin of the Night