Back in the day ambient sets were typically relegated to small rooms at huge events. These places were the hideaways where those looking to escape the booming, repetitive beats from the main room could chill out and catch their breath. So when M83’s Anthony Gonzalez, whose live band is presently opening for The Killers, announced a solo show at The Fillmore at Irving Plaza, it seemed a little odd that the talented Parisian technocrat included a rare ambient solo set on the bill. While the venue is hardly Madison Square Garden, the medium-size venue is still a far cry from the laid-back, informal places where most sets of this ilk are performed and that certainly contributed to the awkwardness in the execution.
Gonzalez took the stage by himself, and he was met with a thunderous ovation by the sold-out crowd (one fan excited to see his hero yelled out before the ambient set began at the top of his longs in thick Brooklynese: AN-TH-ONY! We love ya!), and Gonzalez delicately began twiddling his knobs and conjuring up layers of lovely pads and minimal synth washes. Though many of his beatless sounds were beautiful and captivating, it seemed rather freeform and more of a buildup to the full band’s performance.
After rolling through several tunes, where he tapped melodies on his keyboard, noodled with his laptop and gently plucked his white Gibson Les Paul, Gonzalez was joined by a drummer, bassist and vocalist/keyboardist (Morgan Kibby was mostly excellent during the entire show and was the musical yin to Gonzalez’s yang). Together, the band tore through the songs from the latest album, Saturdays = Yesterday, but the performance was hardly perfect. Perhaps due to Gonzalez’s wealth of influences, at times M83 sounded like Cocteau Twins—lush, dreamy and otherworldly, while other times they they sounded like Thompson Twins. While Gonzalez’s vocals were fine, perhaps the biggest faux pas was the needless overplaying by the band’s drummer, who was housed behind a wall of plexiglass.
When the band was in their dream-pop zone on the many uptempo numbers the results were good. During a particularly heated moment on “Kim & Jessie,” Gonzalez briefly put his foot on the monitor and struck a quick guitar hero pose, before he retreated to the drum riser. When the song finished, he lowered his head and gave the crowd a quick bow. In the end, it was a win-win situation: Gonzalez proved that he can strut like a rock star, but he let everyone know he isn’t willing to ditch his electronic roots just yet.
Words & images: Darren Ressler