October 29, 2011: Washington, DC
I haven't seen this much purple and aqua since the introduction of Columbia Bugaboo jackets and their popularity on the landfill propped ski slopes of southeast Michigan! That was the late 1980s. Sure enough, in 2011 at the Black Cat, M83 paired its nicely done LED stage lighting with lots of synths to conjure up a similar time period. Last night was M83's first night of their new tour following the release of a new double LP, Hurry Up We're Dreaming. They played back to back sold out shows, an add-on early show and an original late show. We attended the late show.
As might be expected from a kick off show, there were some technical difficulties. Following their opener, Active Child, M83 played their first note a few minutes after 11pm, which according to some staff was unusually late. That alone seemed to throw things off. We could clearly see the set list from our position alongside the lighting manager's booth. The third song from that list--Teenage Angst--was skipped, presumably to make up some time. In addition there were a few extended pauses between songs (one for when the bassist's monitor lost its connection) and one pause that seemed shorter than ideal. For a group that seems to focus on the details of song segues on their albums, this was a tiny bit frustrating, but certainly forgivable.
Getting down to the music, their set was almost exclusively focused on tracks from Hurry Up We're Dreaming and 2008's Saturdays = Youth (see partially remembered set list below). It was their debut album, Dead Cities, Red Ghosts & Lost Ghosts, that originally caught my eye, so its exclusion was a little disappointing. I also entered this show fairly skeptical of their new album, despite the praise already given by the likes of Pitchfork. After numerous pre-show listens, I wasn't feeling all that captured by the 80's feeling. With that said, I did find new appreciation for a few tracks after hearing them live. Midnight City was nice and better than the recorded version which features an unmissed, indulgent "sexy sax". They didnt' have a sax player and I appreciate that they didn't try to synthesize it. Steve McQueen was also a lot of fun.
Their two song encore was definitely where they earned my money. Both songs were from Saturdays = Youth. Coluleurs, the show's closer, did an excellent job of getting the crowd moving, even if that level of energy seemed a little late to the scene.
All in all, I was pleased enough with the show and able to overlook the technical glitches. I've been to a series of shows lately where I don't know how much of their live routine would be laptop-based. On that note, it was really great to see/hear that it took four people each contributing in a variety of ways to create these songs. Sure, I would have liked a little less emphasis on the new album, but that is also to be expected. Given that they sold out two shows, they also probably could have tackled the 9:30 Club for improved acoustics and supersized stage effects, but that would have meant a significantly higher ticket price.
Hurry Up We're Dreaming may never hold a place with me like Saturdays = Youth or their debut Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. Sure, Saturdays = Youth was a look back at the 1980s as well, but its John Hughes inspired sound was a unique tribute that seemed to have no contemporary footprints to follow. Hurry Up We're Dreaming, however, puts M83 in a larger category of throwback artists like MGMT. And, while it might not be the album that shows the most of their musical prowess, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts is still the album that gives me the most pleasure. They're newest work seems to have lost most of the darkness and grit of that release.
Set List (partial, as remembered)
Teenage Angst [Omitted from late show]
Kim and Jessie
We Own the Sky
Year One, One UFO
[either] You, Appearing [or] Skin of the Night