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Concert Review: M83 at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, 1/12/12

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M83’s ’80s inspired epic emotional songs are becoming increasingly popular, and their recent double album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming has seen them reach new levels of success. Propelled by the infectious single “Midnight City,” it’s gotten mainstream radio play and attracted a whole new legion of fans, enough to sell out Club Nokia in Los Angeles earlier this month.

Live, M83 has a massive sound, synths and voices echoing through the arena with power and clarity that makes their songs come alive. From a pure musicianship standpoint, the show was a massive success. The songs were lush and easy to get lost in, but most of the crowd response was fairly low key. People seemed to enjoy the show, but the pit area was still for most songs, with more cell phones taking photos than people dancing. And, the majority of the upper deck remained seated for most songs.

One of the hardest things about a band like M83 playing live is that though the crowd is drawn in by their big singles and danceable pop songs with huge hooks, a lot of the band’s work is more ambient. It sounds great on record, and I think worked very well live, but it doesn’t connect with people in the same way, particularly over 90 minutes or so of performing.

What that meant is that a lot of the songs washed together, and the crowd was appreciative, but never rapt in the way that can make for a truly extraordinary concert experience. Frontman Anthony Gonzales kept it pretty low key, and it wasn’t until the second half of the show that he really reached out to engage the crowd. He’s someone new to this level of fame and crowds of this size, and will probably learn how to better navigate an arena crowd. But for now, there wasn’t quite the stage presence needed to ignite the fans.

That said, the final six songs or so were the high point of the show, when the crowd got into it more, and the band seemed more intense. The highest of highlights was definitely “Midnight City,” which featured an amazing saxophone guest appearance. That song had the crowd going wild, and after sitting down the entire show, nearly everyone stood up. The other major highlight was an extended jam on “Coleurs” to close out the show.

Ultimately, the band put on a great show. I just wish the crowd had been a bit more into it. But, I can’t complain about the musicianship at all. I only wish that saxophone player had come out for a few more songs. I would be glad to check out the band again on their next album tour, when they will probably have a better sense of how to deal with their increasing popularity and get the fans more engaged.

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