"When I was 17, I was looking to take the name of a galaxy," Anthony Gonzales told an interviewer earlier this year. "It fits with the first version of the band, when the music was more electronic." Now, though, with M83's cofounder Nicolas Fromageau long gone, Gonzales has reinvented the band as, well, a band. Touring in support of Saturdays=Youth, the lineup is Gonzales on electronics, vocals and guitar, Pierre-Marie Malini on bass, Loic Maurin on drums and the incredibly hardworking Morgan Kibby singing and plinking the keys.
The quartet kicked off their recent LA show with "Run into Flowers," a track from 2004's Dead Cities that's lush, but a little cold on record. Not so, live. Benefiting from both electronic percussion and Maurin's skins, the song became a driving, insistent anthem. (It was a theme that defined the gig; many of the older tracks that the group played had an urgent second life breathed into them by M83's new organic sound.)
The group's set predictably leaned heavily on the new album, focusing on the interplay of live instrumentation with synths and the midair mating ritual of the Gonzales-Kibby boy-girl vox. Standout track "Skin of Night" became a charmingly awkward affair. Whether it was intentional or accidental, Gonzales' stumbling drums and Kibby's reluctant electric piano strokes buoyed her breathy voice into an amazingly confessional place.
Photo credit: Noah Barron
"Graveyard Girl," meanwhile, clearly established itself as sparkly rock track when played live. Similar in both jangle-guitar tone and lyrical content to the Smiths' chestnut "Cemetry Gates," the lovelorn 15-year-old narrator has Keats and Yeats on her side when she tells us, "I'll read poetry to the stones, maybe someday I'll be one of them." Perhaps it's all borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered '80s, but the new "Donnie Darko" affect that M83 has adopted is tremendously compelling in concert.
Worth noting too is what a humble, joyous presence Gonzales brings to the stage. Thanking the audience profusely, clasping his hands together in a Thai-style wai bow, even making a heart shape with his thumbs and forefingers, it was clear that he was feeling the love and wanted us to know. And nowhere was this more evident than in the barn-burning encore rendition of "Couleurs," the only real honest-to-goodness dance track on Saturdays. Gonzales was in full control, toying with the audience by stretching out the intro before giving us the triumphant aural borealis of the track's chorus. Like a dialed-in DJ who knows how badly the audience wants him to drop it, Gonzales strung us along and strung us along and then gave us what we wanted, smiling and making the aforementioned hand-heart gesture as he did so. What had been predominantly a head-nodding, bespectacled and bescarved L.A. crew lost their shit.
Photo credit: Noah Barron
In its current incarnation, M83 has managed to make a daringly devolutionary move: They are now a rock band with electronic influences, rather than the other way around. They haven't shed their French touches, but unmistakably, Gonzales' characters are no longer sentient computers (as they were on Dead Cities) or car-crash ghosts (as they were on Dawn). They're teenagers.
On "Kim & Jessie," Gonzales' runaway "Jack and Diane" love story, we don't know if the protagonists are a boy and a girl, two boys or two girls. "They have a secret world in the twilight," sings Gonzales. "They are crazy about romance and illusion." It taps into a sonic and emotional palette that is somehow the entire planet's pubescent experience—unrequited love, gothy escapist fantasy, PG-rated death obsession—it's a recipe that appeals to anyone who ever felt like an outsider. Which, obviously, is everyone.