M83 @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Riding from a wave of hype and good press surrounding their string of CMJ shows last month, Active Child showcased their unique sound to a decent crowd Wednesday night and no doubt played an integral role in making the show one of the most in-demand tickets of the month. Though backed by a drum machine and a couple of laptops, Active Child managed to achieve a sound that was surprisingly thunderous at times, but for me, it was the delicate touches - Pat Grossi' dynamic Owen Pallet-esque voice or the unexpected swipe of a harp - that set them apart from their R&B-influenced, laptop-wielding contemporaries.
When it was time for M83, they kicked off their lively set with the aptly named "Intro," wasting no time to showcase their bigger, more confident sound. Energy coursed through the venue both on stage and off, and the two groups fed off each other's fervor from the time the house lights dimmed to the rousing two-song encore. The crowd's ecstatic cheers became something of a challenge, and stepping into the mic, singer/guitarist-turned-motivational speaker Anthony Gonzalez responded to the call with a resounding, "Carry on! Carry on!" (No, there was no appearance by the LA-based Nika Roza Danilova aka Zola Jesus who lends her vox on the album, but of course singer/keyboardist Morgan Kibby easily filled the role.) From there, it wasn't long before Kibby pulled back her long, curly hair and everyone danced around in the barrage of blue flickering lights.
Without such excitement, M83 would hardly have been successful executing the ambitious sound of this year's double-album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, but everything about the Thankgiving eve show - the crowd, the lights, the knowledge that it was the final night of the tour - propelled it, making M83's bombastic sound soar. Though many bands exude confidence, few simultaneously rise to a comparable level of competence. Initially Kibby's vocals were hardly audible in the mix, but instead of stuttering or gesturing awkwardly to the sound guy, she grabbed the mic, pulled it closer, and powered through with poise. Even the drummer seemed to be somehow in control of his facial muscles and didn't suffer from the typical assortment of odd facial tics as he delivered propulsive beats.
As if taking a few moments to rest and recharge before the finale, M83 slid into a few slower songs toward the end of their set, starting with "We Own the Sky," which gave Kibby another opportunity to shine on vox. But by "Midnight City," which features the first of two extended sax riffs, they had returned in full force.
Though they opted to omit playing anything from the first two albums, they did throw in a couple from 2005's Before the Dawn Heals Us and a number from 2008's Saturdays = Youth, including one of my favorites, the dark 80s-influenced electro pop gem "Kim & Jessie."
Given their popularity, I confess I'm still surprised M83 didn't opt to play one show at a larger venue (like the dreaded Terminal 5), but I'm certainly thankful with their choice to play a couple of more intimate shows, Webster Hall included, instead. It was about time I heard their music as it deserved to be heard - not through a pair of headphones, but in a space full of sweaty, exuberant fans.
The full setlist and more pictures from the show below...
M83 set list
Kim & Jessie
Year One, One UFO
We Own the Sky
This Bright Flash
Guitar & A Heart
Skin of the Night