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Central Park Summerstage
Wednesday, August 8
Better than: Being forced to watch that Victoria’s Secret commercial over and over again.
M83 are at a crossroads. Last fall’s daringly expansive Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, coupled with its equally cinematic long-form video components, unabashed commercial synchs and a forthcoming Disney-scoring gig, have placed the brainchild of Anthony Gonzalez squarely on the springboard.
The reality of that intersection was striking last night at Central Park, where they played an extended, almost too-beautiful electro set that couldn’t quite peg what it wanted to be: a romantic indie dream-pop secret? That band from all those Red Bull ads? Or, like, Katy Perry-big? The result: an evening chock-full of contradictions—none unpleasant to experience, but all blisteringly symptomatic of the choices Gonzalez and his band either are about to make or are in the midst of making.
The perk of playing a venue like Summerstage is that there’s practically no way to sound terrible. An expert sound system gave songs like “Teen Angst” and “Reunion” recording-quality finesse right from the start, forecasting what was to be the near-perfect execution of 15 of the band’s most opulent tracks (in addition to their remix of Daft Punk’s Tron track “Fall”). Gonzalez and his band are remarkably disciplined musicians and make a point of proudly displaying the fact (kudos to drummer Loïc Maurin, whose stylings were nearly Muse-level on the Epicness Scale, and the anonymous yet incredibly important saxophonist who destroyed his “Midnight City” solo in terrifyingly excellent ways).
At the same time, however, that impeccable sound design and faithful-to-record execution made it hard to tell where sync tracking ended and where the ensemble’s live performance began. Nothing was too loud (chock this up, perhaps, to the city’s noise regulations), or out of whack, or embellished upon: a blessing, certainly, to an instrumental purist (and, perhaps, to a band not exactly interested in “playing it fucking loud”), but also a distance-maker in a crowd of several thousand sweaty bodies without a roof over their heads or Coachella-level volume to focus them.
There wasn’t as much dancing as an M83 show usually elicits from its crowd, likely due to the fact that got damn was it hot, but an appropriately laser-filled light show shouldered the task of keeping attendees mesmerized by the stage, and they were by no means unhappy—jazzed shouts of I LOVE YOU and THANK YOU burst forth from the throng throughout. If Gonzalez had wanted to, he probably could have orchestrated a crowd bounce or a dance break; perhaps his effusively polite attitude prevented him from doing so.
A thought, unwarranted, perhaps, but worth airing: M83 live collaborator Morgan Kibby’s dramatic curtain of curly hair, coupled with the excessive fog machine and the shimmery nature of the night’s non-musical elements, smack strongly of Beach House’s similarly impressive show, but the two acts couldn’t be much different on an elementary level—while Beach House are explicitly determined to create and grow on their own terms and on their own terms only, sometimes to a fault, M83 is aiming to please. Gonzalez, new Angeleno that he is, will do what it takes to make it—be it Red Bull, Victoria’s Secret, Expedia, a Tom Cruise movie—but he’s totally earnest about it, too (it’s not some B.S. means to an end, unless that end is getting Katy Perry to let Gonzalez write her next album).
The disappointments that may have arisen throughout the show, however, by the last few songs of the encore, were almost completely overcome. The band managed shed its perfectionist shackles at the last minute, resulting in what can only be described as an all-out, bro-down, electro-jam fest, infused with the sonic energy that had been lacking here and there earlier on, thanks to Gonzalez screaming NEW YORK NEW YORK NEW YORK!!!!! over and over again. That climax, hinted at during the (again, unadventurous, albeit flawless) instrumental break of “Midnight City,” demonstrated, once again, the band’s innate ability to be as gigantic as they want to be, if only they have the resolve to strike while the electro-pop bubble is hot—which is to say, right now.
Critical bias: Generally suspicious of (a) bands that sound TOO record-perfect and (b) concerts attended by a disproportionate number of finance bros who buy way too many beers at once. Also, I was just about knocked on my ass by how much sexier the “Midnight City” sax solo was live. (Though, alas, it was disappointing that, as swiftly as he appeared, the saxophonist was gone—until the climactic encore breakdown. Can we keep him, please?)
Random notebook dump: I dunno where you got those clove cigarettes, man, but you are totally the guy that would have them and smoke them at an M83 show in Central Park.
Random notebook dump II: Uhhh, was that Paul Dano? Probably not, but—UHHH is that Zoe Kazan? Yep.
Year One, One UFO
We Own The Sky
Fall (Daft Punk remix)
This Bright Flash
Echoes of Mine
A Guitar and a Heart
Skin of the Night