Front man Anthony Gonzales describes M83’s sixth studio album ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’, as: “very, very, very epic.” It’s an ambitious work, blending the familiar synth-tinged shoe gazing of his earlier albums with a bombastic flair not often associated with the band’s generic habitat. Minute long stretches of ambient music wash in and out of dance floor anthems and heartfelt ballads, and Gonzales’ voice is transformed from a near-whisper into a passionate and often soulful centerpiece to the band’s new sound.
M83 are not averse to ramping up the non-musical drama, and the opening fuzz of ‘Intro’ is conducted on stage by a masked figure from the album’s cover. Blue, green and red lights scan the crowd, leaving the band silhouetted on stage. Huge synths and drums shudder through the room, blocking out the distinctive sound of trains rumbling over the curved brick ceiling of the venue.
But something seems to be missing. Were you to take a late-night stroll down Argyle Street outside, it would sound like the gods themselves were partying beneath the station. Yet from the inside the atmosphere is subdued. The sheer scale of the lights and sounds cascading from the stage obscures the band, but they stand relatively still. Gonzales often ends up hunched over a box of cables and knobs with his back to the crowd.
When the volume and brightness of the act are toned down for the more subdued ‘Wait’, the audience can clearly be heard chatting casually to each other. A song like that, in a venue like this, should be met with an awed hush. In this case, bereft of the audiovisual excess preceding it, the music becomes an afterthought.
When Gonzales returns on stage for an encore, he informs the crowd that he is feeling ill. It explains his somewhat lethargic performance, but there is something more to it. Their back catalogue falls quite comfortably into the ‘shoegaze’ camp, and with that comes an excuse to sway from side to side with a certain insecurity that tends to appeal to the genre’s traditionally teenage consumers.
M83’s updated sound, however, is huge and theatrical, and their stage presence has not made a similar leap. The neon blue lights and powerful noise of their performance are geared towards a crowd that will dance and leap around to the pulse of floor fillers like ‘Midnight City’ and ‘Steve McQueen’. But such a reaction never materialized. They forget that a band must excite the crowd through performance itself if they are to elicit an enthusiastic response.
It is possible that M83 simply do not have the same confidence on stage as they do in the studio, and the music itself was performed almost impeccably. What Gonzales and co. need to work out is that music and lights alone do not make a performance. A saxophonist sprinting onstage for the triumphal sax solo at the end of ‘Midnight City’ was the most exciting moment of the night. Either M83 need to work on their stage presence, or they just need more saxophone.