M83 at Lollapalooza, 8/3/12

Categories: Lollapalooza

CP-Lolla2012-Day1-Selects-27-.jpg
Photo by Erik Hess
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M83
Lollapalooza at Grant Park, Chicago
Friday, August 3, 2012

The intense heat in Chicago's Grant Park gave way to a hazy dusk as M83 frontman Anthony Gonzalez stepped onstage in front of a sweaty, sunburnt crowd. In the past, Gonzalez seemed most comfortable hiding behind a rack of vintage synthesizers, but he's since eased into the role of a rockstar, leading his band with a brand new confidence. The change in demeanor mirrors his group's musical trajectory, forsaking quiet bedroom intimacy for grand pop gestures. But for all of M83's stadium aspirations, it was extended '80s jam sessions and lengthy disco diversions that made up most of their festival set.

After starting off with the appropriate "Intro," Gonzalez and company followed up with the reverb-heavy "Teen Angst," one of only three songs in the set that didn't come from recent album Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. The trademark vocal cooing and crashing cymbals were enough to prompt a wave of raised hands from a seemingly worn out crowd, but it was new single "Reunion" that gave them their first real chance to sing along.

The French band's legitimately awesome music videos have hinted at a musical shift towards soundtracks, a trend that marked their hour-long set with extended stretches of blissed-out synths punctuated by big drum-led meltdowns. To Gonzalez, lyrics are best left at the outskirts of his songs, ghostly statements that draw you deeper into the layers of keyboards and pulsing drums. You could call it dance music and not be too far off, but the heavy emphasis on atmospherics takes away from the bodily thrill of the beat.

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Photo by Erik Hess
Still, when M83 decides to unleash their biggest singles, it's hard not to get caught up in the swirl of neon-bright pop. Daft Punk cover "Fall" boasts a wonderfully gigantic vocal hook which roused the crowd out of a late-day fatigue. Likewise, "Midnight City" is one of the last year's most infectious singles, and the crowd response was suitably large with fists being raised in drunken unison.

Unfortunately, the band's biggest tracks weren't followed up by past triumphs like "Kim & Jessie" or "Don't Save Us From The Flames," but by the expansive pomp of "My Tears Are Becoming A Sea." "Outro" did its best to end the set with some much-needed steam, but the crowd started leaving in droves once the familiar strains of "Midnight City" had stopped.

Though they had the benefit of a relatively late slot, the festival grind doesn't give M83 the best venue for showcasing what makes them great. The generous nod to the '80s that's so central to their sound feels lost on a crowd raised on dubstep and the outdoor stages don't help with wrapping the audience up in sumptuous synth euphoria. Gonzalez has far more to offer than massive singles, but the attention-deficit nature of a festival show counts nuance and subtlety as its first casualties.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I love M83, but after seeing them indoors and in festival mode, I feel like they're better witnessed in a club's confines.

The Crowd: Young, stumbling, and pink from sunburn.

Random Notebook Dump: Keyboard player Morgan Kibby seems to be having the best time out of the whole band, with the exception of the underused sax player.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Man, I'm so tired. Let's get more wine."


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