M83 counts down to ecstasy at the Electric Factory

Anthony Gonzalez of the band M83, left, performs during the first weekend of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Friday, April 13, 2012, in Indio, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Anthony Gonzalez of the band M83, left, performs during the first weekend of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Friday, April 13, 2012, in Indio, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello) (AP)
Posted: August 03, 2012

At most concerts, you can tell when a band's set is about to end: Songs grow longer and more dynamic, tempos slow as if seizing on the last chance to stretch the evening out. But if you'd shown up a few minutes late to M83's show at the Electric Factory on Wednesday, you might have cast a worried glance at the time on your ticket. Nearly every song in their hour-plus set sounded like a set-closer, reflecting leader Anthony Gonzales' penchant for playing every song as if it might be his last.

Beginning with the appropriately named "Intro," from last year's expansive Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, Gonzales and his three-piece band strived for a state of constant ecstasy, pushing the needle into the red and leaving it there. Lyrics took a back seat to emotion in its less articulate forms: Some songs were pure instrumentals, while others consisted mainly of wordless utterances, especially when Gonzales ceded the lead vocals to keyboardist Morgan Kibby, who with outstretched arms and flame-red dress evoked the monotheistic priestess from Game of Thrones. The sold-out crowd sang along, even when there were no words to sing, mimicking the electronic riff that anchors the irresistible "Midnight City" - actually a highly processed vocal, although it sounds more like a vintage synthesizer.

Instrumentalist Jordan Lawler, a Sussex County, N.J., native who joined the touring ensemble via an open call on YouTube, was a blur of motion, running in place while thwacking a drum pad as if trying to trying to keep his heart rate up. At times, the synchronized bopping of the musicians' bodies resembled an unchoreographed dance routine, or some joyous form of low-impact aerobics.

Gonzales' evident love for '80s music transcends simple nostalgia. "This Burning Flash" could be the soundtrack to a John Hughes montage, and "Midnight City" climaxed with an alto sax solo that was more thrilling for its utter lack of an ironic smirk. His unvarying swing-for-the-rafters approach risked a kind of orgasmic monotony: "A Guitar and a Heart," the first encore, was all climax and no build, lunging for transcendence rather than earning it. But by then, the crowd and the band were too drenched with sweat to care much about nuance. All that mattered was that the evening wasn't over yet.

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