Last Night: M83 at House of Blues

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M83, I Break Horses House of Blues May 17, 2012

It's slightly weird seeing a band knowing they've already booked another show in town later in the year. That weirdness is amplified when the second show is booked for a bigger venue.

That kind of booking move leads to questions.

Now, the questions surrounding M83 might not be as numerous or interesting as ones surrounding Drake, but they're worth thinking about. When did these guys get so big? Can they fill those bigger venues? Are they trying to capitalize on a bit of temporary success, or is this a band that's here to stay?

M83's live show on this tour can't answer those questions, but it can answer this one: Does their brand of indietronica connect with audiences in a live setting?

Yes. Yes it does.

The move from M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez's bedroom to sold-out shows is unexpected. Few bands break through on their sixth album, fewer when it's a double album release. Throw in their ambient leanings and love of instrumentals and you have the recipe for a show that could try the patience of a crowd who might only be there to hear their big single.

But the crowd was on board from the start.

The night started off with a short set from Swedish shoegaze act I Break Horses. Their strengths lie in solid percussion and broody atmospheres. They spent most of the set back lit, which when combined with their music could have made for a show disconnected from the audience. But by the time set closer "Winter Beats" ended, it was safe to say that the crowd was behind them.

Their set didn't drag and they left the audience wanting more, showing a lot of promise for a band that's only touring America for the first time.

M83 didn't start off with a bang, but with an alien. If you've ever seen the cover to the "Midnight City" single, you might be familiar with the character. With three-fingered hands and a long snout, he greeted the audience before exiting stage left and turning the show over to the main attraction.

While they don't lose the electronic roots of the music live, the band certainly does amp up the rock element of things. Although there are times where it's hard to know what's playing live and what's a backing track, the band isn't afraid to really tear into a track when it needs to.

Of particular note is multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lawlor. Asked to join the band after a successful YouTube audition, live the boy is a monster. Even on a song like "Sitting," where his involvement is limited to one drum stick and one electronic drum pad, he plays like he's on borrowed time, as if he's giving everything in the moment on the off chance he wakes up in the morning and it was all a dream.

Still, Rocks Off couldn't help but chuckle at some of the live instrument choices. Although different songs throughout the night used prerecorded drum loops, there were multiple times where Morgan Kibby picked up a tambourine for some live shaking. Even in 2012 some things are best done the old-fashioned way.

The crowd seemed eager to follow the band wherever it went, whether it was the '80s teen-movie feel of "Reunion" or the full rock out of main set closer "A Guitar and a Heart."

That eagerness grew as the show progressed and finally came full tilt during the show closing "Couleurs," which took the danciness of the studio version and amplified it to 11. The crowd came alive more than ever, as if they had been waiting for permission to have their big dance party and finally received it.

When looking for a band to compare M83 to, critics often land on Smashing Pumpkins. The similarities are obvious: The music is the result of one singular mastermind; it's a four-piece with one female member; they released a double album; both bands feature someone plucked out of obscurity and thrust into a worldwide tour.

The big difference is that Anthony Gonzalez seems to lack all the ego Billy Corgan has in abundance. Gonzalez isn't afraid to fall back and let the other members of M83 have the spotlight. If you didn't know anything about the band, you might not even suspect how big of a role he plays in their existence.

There is a moment when saxophonist Ian Young hits the stage to play the solo in "Midnight City." Gonzalez goes to stand at the side of the stage and just watches. It's the best moment in their most famous song and he's not playing anything.

He's barely on the stage. He's just watching the band and crowd and the moment he's created like a proud parent. It's an anti-rock star moment.

Will that humble part of his nature disappear before they return in October? Let's hope not.

Personal Bias: I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Drake fanboy, but for my money "Midnight City" was far and away the best song to come out in 2011.

The Crowd: Full of all the silly things that come with a bit of success: the couple that makes out right next to you during the slow song; the bro who fist-pumps his way through their big single; the handful of bored boyfriends drug along by their girlfriends.

Random Notebook Dump: Walking to the venue, there wasn't a lot of difference between the crowd headed to see M83 and the crowd heading to see Drake.

Random Notebook Dump 2: When the Avicii show was still booked, Thursday had one of the most stacked concert lineups outside of Summer Fest Saturday. It's an embarrassment of riches sometimes this city.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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