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99% of people I saw at the M83 show at the Ogden on Monday were having a great time. It’s completely understandable; they had a huge indie hit last year with “Midnight City,” and their live show has been consistently touted as an epic experience. But contrary to the hype, M83 was one of the most lifeless and fake concerts that I have ever been to.
There’s a special kind of pretentiousness that defines M83′s career, especially their 2011 album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.” Everything about the image of Gonzales’ project revolves around these majestic, sweeping images, but the truth of the matter is that M83′s music is sadly simplistic. All of their songs follow the straightforward indie synth-band formula of building up a synth-based chord progression before dropping in with epic U2-style drums and searing guitars. For the most part, you can predict every beat of an M83 song minutes before it happens.
This isn’t a call to arms for M83 to expand their sound so they can achieve the cosmic splendor they so desperately want to convey; rather, it’s the opposite. M83, while schticky, know their way around a soundboard. When they commit to just making hopelessly clubby jams only with pounding synths as opposed to pounding bass, the results aren’t half-bad. When the band jammed out on the house-rocking “Sitting” from their 2001 debut record, all of the supposed deepness of the band got thrown out the window in favor of just having a good time, and the house got absolutely torn down. While there were a few other shameless dance party moments, in the context of the show they stood apart from the consistently contrived vibe.
While the remainder of the songs still featured dance elements, there was an inescapable feeling throughout the concert that every single beat was planned to the point of stripping away any genuine chemistry. “This Bright Flash” culminated with a build of feedback that for a brief second seemed like the band might actually go somewhere unexpected, before an exact cut made it obvious that the supposed chaos had a science. The tight, mechanical drum patterns might work in a different context, but Gonzales’ wailing and almost post-rock attention to texture create the same feeling as a stadium rock show. This isn’t to naysay all stadium shows; but there’s an extreme difference between a band like Coldplay and a band like M83 that demands indie cred and artistic acclaim for easy pop songs.
The feeling that I couldn’t shake during the entire concert was that I was in a self-contained vacuum of hype. “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” received heaps of critical acclaim upon its release and I’ve even heard “Midnight City” played alongside Top 40 hits. But the lack of criticism I’ve heard from literally anyone about M83 forces me to believe that at least a percentage of the people listening to it are too afraid to say it just sounds average. Gonzalez goes for an easy win by basing his project around 80′s music conventions, but then ruins what works by skewering it with undeserved bombastic delivery.
Ironically, possibly the most boring song of the night was “Midnight City” itself. Putting questionable mixing aside, the band could not have been less energetic while performing the song, as if it’s a hit they had been playing for years. Even the bassist, who was rocking out the entire show, couldn’t help but stand still. It’s one thing for Radiohead to sound a little lackluster when they play “Karma Police” for the thousandth time, but “Midnight City” came out seven months ago. If there’s ever a time for them to be psyched about their biggest hit, it’s now. Their rejection of it makes them comes off as self-righteous rock-stars.
I’m not trying to take away from the people at the concert who had a good time, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the whole show came off as a celebration of shallow, pretentious music.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.Goldner@colorado.edu.