M83 April 16, Brooklyn Bowl.
Even before M83 rose to fame with 2011 breakout track “Midnight City,” the French-born, LA-based outfit specialized in linking past and present, reviving nostalgic sounds and wrapping them in glossy, glitzed-out cellophane. On the group’s brand new album, Junk, songwriter Anthony Gonzalez dives headfirst into sounds that recall ’70s TV theme songs and underground ’80s discotheques—dominant keyboards, funky basslines, shiny synthesizers and whispery female vocals. It’s a record begging to be played at kitschy parties where fondue and wide-legged jumpsuits aren’t just encouraged but required.
Cheesy as that all might sound, it doesn’t detract from Junk’s rhythmic power, and it didn’t stop M83 from blasting through a spectacular Las Vegas live debut Saturday night at Brooklyn Bowl, the main floor teeming with dancing fans. In an era when so many peers rely on recorded tracks, Gonzalez and his five bandmates played everything in real time—keyboards, synth, guitar, bass, drums, clarinet and saxophone—to maximize each song’s effect. The music was aided by dramatic visuals: a stage design backed by a spectrum of starry bulbs, gleaming LED displays and moving tube lights. A bartender told me that the group asked for all house lights to be turned off for a fully immersive experience, and fully immerse we did.
The fluttering keys of second number “Do It, Try It” transported us to New York City’s legendary Paradise Garage, the sparkling piano evoking the late Larry Levan’s iconic remix of the Joubert Singers’ “Stand on the Word” (the same song Justice sampled in 2007’s “D.A.N.C.E.”). Far from hogging the spotlight, Gonzalez actually carved out space for every musician to shine. In particular, guitarist/bassist Jordan Lawlor decimated the deep, disco-y “Walkway Blues,” a track he wrote for Junk (arguably the best track on the album). And M83’s latest addition, keyboardist/vocalist Kaela Sinclair, sounded so much like Zola Jesus (once featured on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming cut “Intro”) I’d have sworn that Russian-American singer got booked for the tour.
As they played anthemic songs like “Reunion” and “Midnight City,” Gonzalez’s brainchild sounded like a rare pop entity capable of pushing the genre’s boundaries without leaving more mainstream listeners behind. Not everyone will appreciate the garish, sometimes comical moments on Junk, but onstage M83 balances that out with unwavering force. From the Pink Floydian percussion of cinematic ballad “Oblivion” (the title track from an M83-produced soundtrack) to the funked-out verses of delicious encore cut “Laser Gun,” M83 showed off its immense versatility for more than an hour. For anyone wondering what unifies the group’s many sonic sides, the live show is the thread that brings it all together.