“Its very important to me that my music is traveling and going to a lot of different places and reaching different kinds of people.” This is what Anthony Gonzalez told A/V Club back in January. There’s little doubt that he didn’t already know he’s doing that – especially a mere three weeks after every critic unleashed their year-end lists, with the greater majority championing M83‘s latest effort, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. It’s also just impossible for Gonzalez to not know he’s reaching countless listeners, especially based on his recent performances, which have only become more grandiose, sweeping, and heartfelt. Then again, hindsight is always 20/20.
There’s something swimming in that brain of his lately, though. During Friday’s sold-out gig at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre, Gonzalez paused for a snapshot moment, looking around at the historic venue with an aura that could best be described as fortunate. Why not? Some 2,500 spectators stared back, gyrating to the remixed sounds of “Reunion”, and Gonzalez reacted by lifting his arms up and simply screaming, “Chicago!” He didn’t need to say anything; his smile alone radiated past the balcony, away from the mini-bars stocking the venue’s time-charred hallways, and towards the creeps scalping outside on Broadway Ave. He appeared like a child whose school play earned the approval of his hard-respecting parents — and he’s not too far off.
After 11 years in the business, Gonzalez is finally performing to the crowds he’s long deserved, and M83 has become a juggernaut on the concert circuit, brandishing a style of dream pop that’s evolved into a cultural phenomenon. They were dealt near-headlining slots at this year’s installments of Ultra and Coachella, and they’re returning to cities at bigger venues mere months later (if you recall, their last trip to Chicago was in November at Lincoln Hall). Last month, Rolling Stone called the band’s sound “universal”, and that couldn’t be a more apt description. With a track like “Midnight City”, “universal” goes a long way: That surging warbled vocal note, its angsty-yet-anthemic vocals, and the pulsating drums conjure up the best attitudes in everyone. It’s the sort of track that could define an era, and it’s of the caliber that every artist works toward.
Years ago, The Who’s brainchild Pete Townshend, whilst tinkering on his unfortunate Lifehouse project, attempted to create a sound for everyone, one that would unite the listeners across the world. The end result would be 1971’s fabulous Who’s Next, or more specifically “Baba O’Riley”, and it struck pretty close to his ideals. The sweeping rock epic still has every generation around today screaming “teenage wasteland” no different than every soul at the Riviera who screamed “The city is my church.” It’s this pivotal release that draws upon the more emotive elements of what holds the fabric of music together. It’s annoying to just talk about “Midnight City”, but it’s such an integral track, if only for its cultural significance, that it’s impossible to ignore.
It also explains M83’s recent success. Whereas too many bands limp around with that one single, Gonzalez embraces it, and then opens the door to everything he’s ever worked on, and then some. So those newer fans who came into the Riviera whistling the trademark groove of “Midnight City” walked out in love with “Graveyard Girl”, dazzled by “Wait”, or thinking over deeper, more atmospheric instrumentals like “A Guitar and a Heart” and “Couleurs”. In other words, Gonzalez isn’t selling himself short, and instead of shying away from his past work, or focusing heavily on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, he’s celebrating his dense repertoire, which is always an admirable thing. Granted, it helps that he has five other critically-acclaimed LPs to utilize.
What’s more, the band is just too good live. Gonzalez is a veteran at this now, but he’s also surrounded himself with a bevy of talent. Drummer LoÃ¯c Maurin scorches through each track, Morgan Kibby digs her fingers into the keyboards, and multi-instrumentalist and newcomer Jordan Lawlor is probably the greatest find in the history of open auditions. The kid never stops ricocheting across the stage and at one point toward the end, he collapsed on the floor in utter exhaustion — quite charming. So, despite some sound hiccups (whoever mic’d the saxophone should be fired), M83’s return to Chicago went accordingly; which is to say, it was just another chapter in the band’s evolving story of success, one that continues this August at Lollapalooza. At this rate, they’ll be arena rock heroes by January, and wouldn’t that just be fabulous? Gonzalez would think so.
Photography by Heather Kaplan.
Year One, One UFO
We Own The Sky
Fall (Daft Punk cover)
This Bright Flash
A Guitar and a Heart
Skin Of The Night