M83 Opera House, Toronto ON November 20
Published Nov 22, 2008"Synth explosions" sounds like an oxymoron, but it typifies M83. The Anthony Gonzalez-led combo relies on an old trick: the almighty crescendo. Gonzalez et al know how to build keyboard taps and leftfield blips into sky-scraping anthems and they milk the formula. At their Opera House gig, the blueprint typically stirred, though its manic depressive highs and lows occasionally led to DTs.
Tone-setting opener, "Run into Flowers," began coyly as Gonzalez twittered with laptop effects until crisp drum fills kicked him into action. A flirtatious first selection, it held its comber back covetously, pausing for a laidback vocal interlude and a Ladytron-evoking (see "Destroy Everything You Touch") rhythmic dalliance. Judiciously, when it finally delivered its promised blast - a convergence of sirens and hammered keys - it restrained itself slightly, trying not to dwarf what followed (i.e. upsurges and withdrawal symptoms).
To be effective, the M83 template needs breadth. When the quartet eschewed big-small interplay it usually faltered. For instance, "Moonchild" aped a church organ ominously, yet stayed flat, never delivering on its early rumblings. Similarly, "Kim & Jessie's" sugary hook couldn't live up to the sonorous weight of its predecessors.
On the other hand, the gigantic "Don't Save Us from the Flames" stutter-stepped decisively, its piercing keys duelling with thunderous drums and climactically booming. Likewise, "We Own the Sky" saw a towering bass drum juxtaposed with Gonzalez and keyboardist Morgan Kibby's choral vocals. The combination created a rousing tension that expanded throughout and concluded with the fitting refrain of "it's coming, it's coming now" (yeah, it was as sexual as it sounds).
The problem with the repeated reliance on a rise-fall-rise song structure is its druggy effects. Like crack hits, crescendos need to keep growing else they stop sating. For instance, the jangling New Order-style guitar hook of "Graveyard Girl" was infectious, though it seemed small compared to its counterparts. Conversely, the robust fragility of "Skin of the Night" was replete with Kibby's operatic, glass voice, benefitted from speeding synths and building guitars.
M83 seldom strayed from their strengths, closing the night with a series of Godspeed You! Black Emperor-style explosions - though, you know, with keyboards (notably "Couleurs"). Mostly compelling, the set kept the shakes to a minimum.