Monday, November 24th, 2008
M83 and School Of Seven Bells at the Opera House in Toronto
Frank YangIt’s amazing what a little tracklist editing can do. Though it goes against much of what I believe (album is sacred, blah blah), I’ve found that simply hitting the skip button on M83’s last album Before The Dawn Heals Us when a certain spoken word track starts improves the overall experience immeasurably. This revelation, combined with the fact that their latest effort Saturday=Youth has been growing on me much more since I reviewed it in brief, should have been enough to get me to the Opera House last Thursday night to see them live for the first time in some three and a half years. But it took the addition of School Of Seven Bells, whose debut Alpinisms has proven to be a real delight, to get me to commit.
I had been curious as to how School Of Seven Bells would recreate the decidedly studio-esque sounds of Alpinisms live, especially considering the fact that the three principals didn’t equate to a full conventional live band. In other words, I was wondering if they’d have a drummer. Answer – no. The band was guitarist Ben Curtis flanked by the Deheza sisters, Claudia on keyboards and Alley on guitar and samples handling rhythm duties. And while I’m of the school of thought that live drummers are always better than samples, their live performance didn’t suffer much for it. Though their set was briefer than I’d have liked – just seven songs in 35 minutes – they still covered all the high points of Alpinisms, though they opted for straight reproduction of the record rather than reinterpretation. The Dehezas’ harmonies were tight and note-perfect, though a bit low in the mix, and Curtis’ non-stop guitar-riffing kept things from feeling too mechanical. And if 17-year old me may step in for just a moment and say to Curtis – dude, standing on stage and soloing whilst surrounded by beautiful girls? You are living the dream. And adult me is hoping that School Of Seven Bells strike out on their own tour in the new year, play a longer set and maybe mess around with the structure of things a bit.
M83 had just come through town in May so I’d expected that might have affected the turnout, and while the crowd was pretty thin early on it had filled up substantially by show time. I’d seen them back in 2005 at their Toronto debut at Lee’s Palace, and when anyone asks me about it the best word I could come up with the describe it is “ridiculous”. Read my review from that show for specifics. This time out, I was expecting equal levels of sonic grandeur and while I don’t think that those heights were reached, I think the show was actually better than that first one. Like that show, the M83 live experience was again a four-piece but this time the bassist had been traded for a second keyboardist/vocalist in Morgan Kibby, who is such an essential presence on Saturday=Youth. Anthony Gonzalez also spent more time on keys than guitar this time, lessening the need for taped backing tracks (of which there were still plenty, just less) and also mitigating the amount of fromage-ish rock star posing he could engage in.
Essentially, it seemed that they’d opted to sacrifice some spectacle for the benefit of the sound, and it was a wise trade-off. The band seemed much more engaged in the performance, and the extended square-wave instrumental explorations of Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts stood alongside the more pop-friendly confections of the last couple records. Not that those albums are short of instrumental excursions either, and proved that M83 has assembled a broad enough repertoire to shake off the “new My Bloody Valentine” tag that got applied when they first began making waves. Now you could just as accurately/inaccurately call them the “new New Order” or “new Cocteau Twins”. Or you could give up on that approach to lazy descriptors and simply accept that while they may wear their influences on their sleeve, M83 are now creating something that’s distinctly theirs.
Photos: M83, School Of Seven Bells @ The Opera House – November 20, 2008
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Connjur”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Half Asleep”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Chain”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “My Cabal” (Robin Guthrie mix)
Video: M83 – “Graveyard Girl”
Video: M83 – “Kim And Jessie”
Video: M83 – “Teen Agnst”
Video: M83 – “Run Into Flowers”
Video: M83 – “Don’t Save Us From The Flames”
Video: M83 – “America”
MySpace: School Of Seven Bells
The Telegraph reports that thirteen years after he disappeared, Richey Edwards of Manic Street Preachers has finally been officially declared, “presumed dead”. Edwards’ left-behind lyrics are being used as the basis of the next Manics record, due out some time in the Spring.