All photos courtesy of Daniel Jackson.
I had never heard of M83 until I moved to Houston for the second time and went out on a few dates with a guy, let’s call him Elijah. Elijah had longish curly hair not unlike Jordan Lawlor’s (M83’s lead guitarist) and I remember it always smelled like it had just been freshly shampooed. Elijah went to the Berklee College of Music and he had great taste. It was these two things that made me believe he was one of the most interesting people I had meant since moving back to the city again. Elijah introduced me to a track called “Moon Child” by the French electronic band I had never heard of before. I remember the feelings I felt hearing that song more than I remember our first kiss. I remember the way my heart pounded and butterflies fluttered in my stomach. The tug I felt growing from the pit of my belly moved me more than Elijah ever did. Looking back, I’ve come to realize that my passion for music has far outlasted my passion for any date, perhaps that’s why ten years later I found myself at an M83 show all alone.
I got to White Oak Music Hall just as the sun was starting to set in the sky. The indoor area of the brand new Houston venue is still under construction, but the outdoor stage sat at the bottom of a grassy hill was a perfect space for a breezy April evening concert. The lawn was already buzzing with people, I grabbed a drink and weaved to the front of the crowd, as close to the stage as possible. The artificial grass below my feet felt cushiony, I chose a spot and waited for M83’s opening band. The crowd was young, excited and friendly. There was no pushing or fighting, no drink spilling. The guy standing next to me told me he flew all the way down to Houston from Rhode Island and had spent over $600 just to see M83 tonight. If gratitude had a face, it would look like his. I thought for second about how lucky I was.
YACHT, an electropop band from Portland took the stage. The band is led by lithe and pixie-haired Claire Evans. She came out eager and excited, shouting greetings to Houston and mentioned they were the first band to ever play on that stage. While Evans’ high energy should have been captivating, I found it difficult to connect with. Try as I did, I just couldn’t quite figure out YACHT’s style, the music seemed to be entertaining the crowd, who swayed to the funky basslines and sharp synths. For me, they felt generic. Like electropop music you listen to while trying on pastel-colored denim at the Gap. Overall I felt like the band was disappointing as the christeners of this new stage in Houston. Between Evans shouting about a cooler future, the Maker’s Mark I was drinking and the smell of fried food in the air…halfway into YACHT’s set I was feeling seasick.
As it got darker, the crowd grew more dense. To my left, the skyline of Houston. To my right, the Raven Tower and a moon hanging low in the sky. The cool breeze and anticipation that M83 would soon be on stage soothed me. I thought about the spiral galaxy from which the band took their name, I thought about the brand new album which had just dropped the day prior – Junk. Before my mind could get the best of me, thin fluorescent lights flickered on, hanging from the top of the stage like giant glowing sprinkles. M83, led by Anthony Gonzalez, took the stage along with guitarist Jordan Lawlor, saxophonist Ian Young, drummer Loïc Maurin and latest addition, keyboardist and vocalist Kaela Sinclair, whom Gonzalez chose earlier to this year to replace Morgan Kibby. The band opened with “Reunion” from 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The track is one of my favorites from the record and set the tone for the evening perfectly. Sinclair showed off the vocals that snagged her the exclusive spot on M83’s 2016 world wide tour which stretches out until August. Having only been their third show, Sinclair already successfully captured Morgan Kibby’s seductive cooing as she sang “let’s stay here forever” to which I found myself nodding. As a big fan of Kibby’s work with M83 and her solo project White Sea, the shoes weren’t easy to fill and Texas-raised Sinclair did beautifully.
The single from the band’s latest release followed. “Do It, Try It” is not a song I would use to escape from the world through my headphones, and admittedly it did not make me want to do or try anything the first time I heard it, but it was a perfect dance track for a live set on a Saturday night. The crowd and I danced to the playful and bouncy keyboards, the chorus “a dance on repeat / a trance on a hard beat” made it easy to shift weight from one foot to another with one hand in the air. Mai Lan, a french singer/songwriter who sang vocals on four songs on the new album joined the band on stage to sing another uber dancey track, “Bibi the Dog”. It was during this song I realized that perhaps M83’s latest record is really a satirical statement about where electronic music is going. Junk is completely devoid of the dramatic and romantic aesthetic that makes up of most of M83’s body of work. It feels trite, wanting to be charming and nostalgic, but really just coming off as pedestrian. The music M83 has created until now sounds as if it could be the soundtrack to the most grandiose of science fiction thrillers or at its most romantic, a beloved John Hughes movie. Junk sounds like the kind of music made for bad 80’s television sitcoms.
There are some gems on the record, “Walkway Blues” shows off guitarist Jordan Lawlor’s heavenly vocals. His voice melted into the microphone and echoed through the speakers in smooth and hushed tones. While showcasing their new work, M83 still managed to do a great job of creating a setlist that balanced out Junk tracks with favorites from their previous three records. The “oohs” of “Steve McQueen” from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming echoed beautifully across the lawn. It was these moments from a masterpiece of an album that catapulted M83 into mainstream status five years ago that the audience held on to.
As I stood swaying on the grass listening to “Wait,” I felt tears in my eyes, completely overwhelmed by the beauty that exists in the lyrics “there’s no end / there is no goodbye / disappear with the night.”
Hearing the drums crashing and the echoing shrieks come to life in front of me made my heart feel full, the powerful sounds floating in the cool night air, pushing hard against my ears. It was the same feeling I got when I heard M83 for the very first time ten years ago. It was then, and when the band revisited “Echoes of Mine” from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and “Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun” from Before The Dawn Heals Us that made the night special for me. That’s really what M83 does best – epic, boisterous and louder-than-life instrumental songs with ethereal, barely comprehensible vocals. These tracks make you feel invincible, free. As the concert came to an end, I sang “oh oh oh” into the night sky. With Houston as a gorgeous backdrop, I not only understood, but truly felt what M83’s most popular lyric “the city is my church” meant. The night, the venue, the music, it all felt so perfect. There I stood at the altar, my mind outside of my body and I felt nothing but peace. As I walked away from the venue that night I ran into a guy wearing a t-shirt with “Moon Child” written in sharpie across the front. I thought about Elijah and felt grateful for the people that come into our lives, if only to show us great things and then leave again.
M83 Concert Playlist Set Below:
More M83 and YACHT Pics:
Melissa Vega is not one of those people that needs coffee every morning but one of those people that needs music every morning. There’s just something about trumpets sounding while the sun is rising that gets her out of bed every day. She wonders if her love for music will ever be a talent she will actually realize beyond being really excellent at singing in the shower. She can be summed up in a single lyric from Wilco’s “She’s a Jar”: “when I forget how to talk, I sing.”