Monday, November 21st, 2011
M83 and Active Child at Lee’s Palace in Toronto
Frank YangA few songs into M83’s performance at Lee’s Palace on Friday night, frontman and mastermind Anthony Gonzalez stepped to the mic and said something to the effect of, “thanks, this is our first time here”. Which was perplexing as it was far from their Toronto debut – it was their fourth time here, the last time being not THAT long ago in November 2008. It wasn’t even their first time playing the venue, as it was where they made their actual first local appearance back in 2005. Maybe he meant his band, though keyboardist/vocalist Morgan Kibby was along the last time out as well so maybe he was talking about his bassist/second guitarist Jordan Lawlor who was most definitely new this time out (he’d have been all of 17 years old during their last tour – did he win the audition?). But probably not. But while it was an odd thing to say on any quantitative level, in a broader, macro sense it felt kind of true.
When they first started getting attention with their 2003 second album Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, much of it came from old-school shoegaze and dreampop fans who found something familiar and exciting in the walls of sound that Gonzalez and then-collaborater Nicolas Fromageau were crafting, albeit with synthesizers rather than guitars. M83 become Gonzalez solo as of 2005’s Before The Dawn Heals Us and took their sound in a more melodic, vocal-oriented and over-the-top direction, in the process expanding their fanbase beyond those with threadbare Slowdive t-shirts in their closets. Both trends continued with 2008’s technicolour Saturdays=Youth and now, with their double-disc opus of excess Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, getting bigger has turned into blowing up – this show was sold out for months, scalpers demanding triple digits for ducats and the median age of the audience, by my guesstimate, was about a decade younger than it was in 2005. So not their first visit, technically, but the atmosphere certainly made it feel like a new start.
Support came from Los Angeles’ Active Child, who I’d seen last Fall opening for School Of Seven Bells (who, incidentally, opened up for M83 their last time through). This time out, they had both a proper album out in You Are All I See and a drummer in the fold and either or both of these factors made for a more compelling show. It was still largely stolen by Pat Grossi’s angelic vocals and harp stylings, but their electro-tribal choirboy soul had a lot more cohesiveness this time out, having coalesced from a bunch of interesting ideas into an actual sound.
The M83 narrative may have reached a new plateau with this record and tour, but the show itself remained pretty familiar to those who’d seen them before. Okay, the amount of stage lighting all over the stage was new – it looked like they’d raided a factory outlet for lasers, spots, LED pillars and a starfield backdrop – as was the costumed alien who came out to open the show by way of raised arms. But the rest of it – Gonzalez’s big guitar moves and unrestrained vocals (the man seems to have become perfect hybrid of rock star and celeb DJ), Kibby’s angelic voice as a foil for his (though she’s still billed as a “guest”, it’s hard to imagine M83 live or on record without her presence), the unabashedly grandiose live renderings of songs already filled to the bursting point with grandeur (all without even acknowledging the very concept of irony let alone indulging in it) – were already established hallmarks of the M83 live experience and done as well on this night as any I’ve seen.
What set this show apart from the previous – and I apologize if I’m repeating myself – was the audience. They were tossing Toronto’s reputation for being stolid right out the window, dancing and waving their arms about with abandon through the whole set, creating a miniature festival vibe of the sort you don’t often see in these parts, at least not at a club show. It’s not a response that Gonzalez would have gotten from his old shoegazing demographic, I’ll tell you that. But he works from a place of memories of his youth, of optimism, of endless possibility – it makes sense that that would resonate most with the young. Or maybe the kids just dug the big beats and cosmic, mind-bendy sounds – watching them get down to the show-closing “Coleurs”, which was more rave than encore, that could have been it.
Photos: M83, Active Child @ Lee’s Palace – November 18, 2011
MP3: Active Child – “You Are All I See”
MP3: Active Child – “Wilderness”
MP3: Active Child – “Body Heat (So Far Away)”
Video: M83 – “Midnight City”
Video: M83 – “We Own The Sky”
Video: M83 – “Graveyard Girl”
Video: M83 – “Kim And Jessie”
Video: M83 – “Teen Angst”
Video: M83 – “Don’t Save Us From The Flames”
Video: M83 – “Run Into Flowers”
Video: M83 – “America”
Video: Active Child – “I’m In Your Church At Night”
Neil Halstead has premiered a video for a new song over at Paste, his contribution to the seasonal This Warm December, A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 2 compilation being put out by his label. Not that this necessarily points to anything new from him solo or Mojave 3, but it’s nice to hear his voice again.
Elbow are presently streaming the video of their recent performance at Manchester Cathedral over at their website. You can also watch a studio performance of “The River” for CBC’s Q below.
Video: Elbow – “The River” (live on Q.