The Lawn at White Oak Music Hall
April 9, 2016
Perhaps it was the temporary stage that looked very much like its name. Maybe it was the green underfoot instead of wood or concrete. Look up and you could see the Texas sky, look out and you could see the Houston skyline one way and the persistent traffic on I-45 the other. Breathe in for cigarette smoke and the faint hint of food trucks.
Going to see a show at The Lawn at White Oak Music Hall may not be exactly the same as going to a music festival, but it sure does look, smell and feel like going to a festival.
It’s a pretty good look, one that immediately gives it a different identity in the world of Houston concert venues. And on the first night, at least, it worked. Lines to pick up tickets and get into the venue moved quick, sight lines were pretty much great no matter where you stood, and the lines to use the portapotties – a festival staple if there is such a thing – were tolerable. Other than a couple of announcements from the stage as requested by the fire marshal — stop crowding the side of the venue where the bars are; emergency exit exists over that way — you might not even have realized that this was the first night for the venue.
It was the perfect setting for M83’s return to Houston after almost four years, more than anyone might have guessed upon the initial booking.
Junk, M83’s return album, can be hard to get your head around. It’s been obvious for a while now that Anthony Gonzalez loves the ‘80s, and Junk takes this love to a very extreme, but somewhat logical conclusion. It feels very vaporwave in its aesthetic; it might not sound like muzak or shopping-mall music, but it’s not much of a jump from that to the ‘80s sitcom music tributes featured on Junk.
However weird the tracks might sound in their studio versions, they work a bit better live. “Go!” is a real solid addition to the M83 live canon, as it’s among the more energetic of the new offerings. “Walkaway Blues” is pure cheese, but it goes down easy enough, and “Do It, Try It” got a lot of people moving early in the set.
While not as new as the Junk tracks, the high point of the show was an amazing performance of “Oblivion,” featuring lead vocals from Dallas singer/songwriter (and Dallas Observer Music Award Winner) Kaela Sinclair. Her vocals were so strong they got an extra enthusiastic round of applause from the crowd.
The festival-like feeling of the venue played to the set’s strengths. Inside a place like Revention, the stage setup might have been a bit too on the nose; the creepy Lisa Frank, neon-nightmare color scheme might have come off a bit over the top surrounded by dark walls on all sides. The open air of White Oak gave it some breathing room; it looked very much like what a band looking to reintroduce itself on the festival scene would go with so that people didn’t have to think too much.
Plus, in true festival spirit, the sold-out show was full of people more interested in talking over the headliner than paying attention. The new hotness, by the way, isn’t recording the band playing their big song; it’s Snapchatting yourself partying during the big song, because people with access to technology are the goddamn worst.
Maybe M83 have been away slightly too long. It felt like the roar for “Midnight City” should have been louder, and I found myself missing the fist-pumping bros of 2012; at least they allowed themselves to get excited being in the presence of greatness.
But times change. The greatness you put into the world gets co-opted by others. The blue and pink shades you use to light your stage end up being the same blue and pink that Carly Rae Jepsen uses. You fall in love with ‘80s kitsch and the Family Ties soundtrack.
But on this very first night at White Oak Music Hall, band and venue came together in as perfect harmony as you can expect for a band like M83 and a city like Houston. Get ready to start reevaluating your best-venues list.
So, How Was the Opener? Yacht are the right type of band to open for M83, with their throwback tendencies, sharp outfits and catchy songs. “I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler” was a standout, and a pretty cool shirt.
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Personal Bias: Yeah, I’m one of those “’Midnight City’ is one of the best songs released since the year 2000” types of people. Self-indulgent fun fact: M83 were the first show I ever reviewed for the Press.
The Crowd: Not as dancey as the last time M83 were in town. Real interested in the drone flying overhead.
Overheard in the Crowd: “It’s like a festival, but much less dirty,” said my +1, quite accurately.
Random Notebook Dump: Let’s talk about Lot B for a moment. I understand that parking lots are easy money, and I understand the capitalistic need to jam as many cars as possible into them as possible. I’m not here to knock anyone’s hustle. But good lord, maybe rather than try and make an extra $150, you don’t set things up so that some cars are basically boxed in. Would hate to see what could happen if someone needed to leave early due to an emergency.