Show Review: M83 & Active Child at The Masquerade (10/31/11)

It was Halloween. The sold out crowd was dressed in a variety of costumes ranging from frogs to Super Mario Brothers to skeletons. The stage was set with a vast array of instruments — cluttered in the best way possible. A blacked out light rig waited patiently in the back of the dimly lit stage. Less patient was the crowd of 1000+ packed in to the upstairs venue to see one of the most beloved acts in the world. Fact is, M83 doesn’t tour often. The excitement could be felt in the air. Even before the show began there was a sense that not a single person would leave disappointed. M83 proved that notion correct.

Opening for M83 on this North American tour was Active Child — the brainchild of Los Angeles based multi-instrumentalist, Patrick Grossi. Grossi was accompanied by two musicians, a drummer and one other jack-of-all-trades instrumentalist. They may have played somewhere in the ballpark of 8 songs, I honestly couldn’t tell you an exact number. Every single one sounded the same. While I was highly impressed with Grossi’s skill on harp (yes you read that correctly), his vocal content left me wanting more. Muddy, slurred, and sloppily harmonized falsetto vocals were set over strange keyboard sounds and lackluster drums that were obviously from an electric kit. However, the element of the harp added a dimension that kept my attention. Skillfully played, the harp added a distinct ambient atmosphere to Active Child’s set. As a newer act, I didn’t expect great things from Active Child. However, the buidling blocks were definitely there for a great live show. I look forward to hearing more from Grossi in the future.

After a 45-minute set change between acts, Anthony Gonzalez and company finally hit the stage. It was well worth the wait. At the first chord strike of their appropriately titled “Intro”, the crowd was immediately locked in to everything the 4-piece band was doing. Simply put, the crowd didn’t stop dancing through the entire 90 minute performance.

As I mentioned in my review of “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”, Gonzalez has come out of his shell, so to speak. This not only applies to his vocal abilities, where he clearly shined throughout the show, but also to his role as a frontman. Having toured in the past with such bands as Depeche Mode and The Killers, it was clear that the frenchman had been taking notes from the commanding performers of those acts. Gonzalez has moved in to this role considerably well. Multiple times in the show he could be found lunging in to the crowd, once while playing a guitar solo — an impressive feat. Gonzalez and his accompanying musicians were perfect in engaging the crowd; who, in turn, never ceased dancing, crowd surfing, and singing along.

The song selection and musical presentation was flawless. From the insanely catchy, high energy hit, “Midnight City”, to the more serious, haunting “Skin of the Night”; M83 left the audience in awe as they perfectly executed album versions of the songs. The night was not without a remix either — the live restructuring of “We Own the Sky” renders the album version obsolete. The mix of dreamy falsetto vocals from Gonzalez, paired with the chillingly beautiful voice of keyboardist, Mogan Kibby, left nothing to be desired. Combine this with the sound of over 1000 fans singing the easily learned lyrics and you get the experience of an almost angelic sound.

M83 is not one of those bands that plays 300 dates per year. Opportunities to see Anthony Gonzalez’s brilliant musical mind in person is rare. When the Los Angeles-based, M83 hits the stage in a live setting, anticipation is at an all time high. By the time all was said and done, I was sweaty, tired, and left completely speechless. If you live in an area where this tour is still scheduled to stop (and isn’t sold out), I highly reccomend you drop any existing plans to be present for this incredible live act. You will not leave disappointed.

-Jordan Welsh; November 7, 2011