All words: William Alberque — All photos: Katherine Gaines
M83 moved their early-late double-act show to the 930 Club, and, stunningly, played an even better set than their October showcase at the Cat. I was figuratively blown out of the back of the room by the sheer joy of sound on display from both the opener – the fantastic Swedish shoegaze act I Break Horses – and the main act – the increasingly unbeatable pop monster that is M83.
It can no longer be denied – M83 are the best live act in music right now. I’ve seen a lot of shows over the past few years; some surprisingly good, and others fulfilling or even marginally exceeding expectation. But this show…words fail me. But still, I must try, with the poverty that is the English language, to describe what I saw Saturday night at the 930 Club.
Opening act I Break Horses are from Sweden, and have exactly one album (Hearts) and two exquisitely-packaged 12” singles (Hearts and Winter Beats, covers designed by Vaughn Oliver, naturally) out on the superb Bella Union label from England. Female vocals, shoegaze textures, electronic beats – so fairly similar to M83’s most recent work – but, more blissed-out. The band is comprised of Maria Lindén and her musical partner Fredrik Balck, but tonight, for their first time in DC, they’re augmented by two more, giving us extra keys, bass, guitars, and real and synthpad drums to beef up the drum machine sounds of the record.
I Break Horses lay out the stall from their first sounds, with a drum machine washed in an ecstatic explosion of noise. Lindén coos gorgeously into two microphones while the drummer switches from synthpad to live drums to fill out the sound, and the song sways from her voice to noise, underpinned by the massive beats. I have no idea which song is which – not that they all sound the same, but I’m just not familiar enough to guess.
There are only five songs in the set, much to my chagrin (the downside to the early/late set phenom), but what a five songs!! Each is distinct, mesmerizing, gorgeous, especially the final track, with waves and waves of noise caressing the audience as the song builds to higher and higher plateaus of perfection. A truly astounding first glimpse of I Break Horses, and, hopefully, not the last.
M83 take the stage quickly, the beautiful, sparkly backdrop of pin lights comes alive, and gorgeous keyboard noise fills the room. The sound at the 930 is even sharper than it was at the Cat, as the appropriately-titled “Intro” raises goosebumps on my skin. Morgan Kirby does a fine (if unenviable) job filling in for Zola Jesus, and we are off to the races. What an opening! Oh, and did I mention that someone comes out dressed as the weird M83 alien costume from the new album, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, walks out to greet us? Yeah.
The band – four strong tonight – are in amazingly fine fettle, with vocals, guitars, and keyboards from founding member Anthony Gonzalez, augmented by the heroic drumming of Loïc Maurin, fine vocals and keys from Morgan Kirby, and bewitching guitar from newcomer Jordan Lawlor. “Teen Angst,” with its heart-racing intro and blissful end sends the room into raptures, all a blur of movement and happiness. “Graveyard Girl” starts the most improbable sing-along and ends with a Gonzalez guitar freak-out of the highest quality.
I find myself losing it to “Sitting,” their earliest track (released on a 10” backed by Slowly), starting with the sampled vocal imploring, “LET’S GO!” The crowd seem mostly confused to the reaction of stalwarts like myself (it’s not their best known track), but by the end, they’ve transformed into a seething mob of bodies, dancing with abandon. After “Sitting,” my notes are a little fuzzy (e.g., description of song five: “WOW,” thanks, that’s helpful, William), but I think “We Own the Sky” follows. I don’t know what’s next – we’re definitely off the 14-song set list I saw – so, we’ll say, “Steve McQueen” (seems plausible from the sequence and my notes: “Beach House turned up to 11”), and then “Year One, One UFO,” with the peripatetic Lawlor up on a speaker to encourage a clap-along, and the whole band turning to attack the drum kit for the end.
I know song eight is “Midnight City,” (you’d be hard-pressed to forget the crowd’s reaction, which is something like seeing two goals in injury time win a team a championship for the first time in 44 years, by way of comparison), preceded by Gonzalez thanking the audience and I Break Horses. He shouts, “LET’S MAKE THIS A PARTY” before the familiar opening keyboards of City sends the crowd into delirium. The level of devotion of the crowd truly shocks me – I had no idea they could step it up to this level – but the saxophone solo at the end is just a touch gratuitous. Ah well, the French, eh?
I haven’t a clue what the final track of the regular set is. The setlist offers no clues – so, I’ll guess “Fall,” by Daft Punk, and describe it as a bro-tastic freak-down to electropunk/industrial. The opening is a massive, Goldfrappian “Ooh La La” bassline, before going all Mogwai on everybody’s ass. Wow.
It’s time to go off before the encore, but Gonzalez stays on and thanks the crowd, waiting for the band to come back. They do, the lights go red, and Kirby sings her heart out on “Skin of the Night,” so emotional, so immense, it’s like the soundtrack to the most dramatic moment in a cinematic epic. They follow with the demented acid house of “Couleurs,” with Lawlor jumping up onto the drum kit to clap the audience along before Kirby joins Maurin on drums for an amazing, frenzied end to the show.
I want to linger, but it’s the Premier League’s final day tomorrow – and I want to be at the Queen Vic early to shout myself hoarse watching 22 men chase a bit of leather for 90 minutes. Oh, the joys of being alive these days…
- I Break Horses: