After releasing his breakthrough album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming featuring the hit single “Midnight City” in 2011, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez turned his gaze to Hollywood. He co-wrote the soundtrack to the 2013 Tom Cruise movie Oblivion and had a new song featured on the Divergent soundtrack in 2014 and another song featured on the follow-up, Divergent Series: Insurgent soundtrack in 2015. During this period, his songs would be also be featured in numerous TV shows and commercials. Then, just when fans began to wonder when and if they might see a new studio album, Gonzalez delivered the oddly intriguing seventh M83 studio album, Junk in April of this year. Rather than a continuation of synth and guitar cinematic soundscapes, Junk is a loose and nostalgic homage to childhood memories and, oddly enough, 1980s television. As M83 have hit the tour trail to support the new release, the question being pondered by most of the crowd at the Red Hat Amphitheater in Raleigh was how would Junk’s ‘80s inspired bubblegum pop songs fit in with the rest of the M83 catalog.
As M83 took the stage in a swirl of fog and moody blue light, Gonzalez and his bandmates kicked off their set with “Reunion” from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming before dipping into the new album with Junk’s playful and bouncy dance track single, “Do It, Try It.” Even at a relatively short 75 minutes the band delivered a well-balanced set that worked in new songs from Junk with a healthy serving of favorites from their previous three records, including classics like “Steve McQueen,” “OK Pal,” and “We Own The Sky.” Those that wondered how the new songs from Junk would fit in, didn’t need to worry. M83, led by Gonzalez, are a talented and tight group of musicians who added a satisfying depth and urgency to the new songs that elevated them when performed live. Newest member, vocalist and keyboardist Kaela Sinclair, who was drafted by Gonzalez to replace Morgan Kibby, did an admirable job of capturing Kibby’s seductive vocals. She was joined by guitarist Jordan Lawlor who was a non-stop human hurricane spinning around the stage in a blur of constant motion, attacking his guitar with gusto when nailing the licks from “Go!,” that were provided by Steve Vai on the album version of the song. Lawlor also shone as he spearheaded “Walkway Blues,” his first composition as a member of M83. The lineup was completed by multi-instrumentalist Joe Berry, who wowed the crowd with his howling sax work, and veteran drummer Loïc Maurin who held everyone together and propelled the songs forward.
The crowd was definitely connecting with the songs as the venue seemingly morphed into a giant dance party, and then M83 hit their stride and took it to another level. French singer/songwriter Mai Lan came out and joined the band for two tracks from Junk, “Bibi the Dog,” and “Go!,” before Gonzalez stepped up and delivered the signature opening riff from the anthemic “Midnight City,” driving an already rapturous crowd over the edge. From there, the band wound down before coming out for a single encore of “Couleurs.” The show was a stunning array of lighting and sound that delivered on every level.
Opening the evening was Sofi Tukker, a New York-based duo consisting of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern. They delivered funky rhythmic dance tracks laced with scorching guitar lines from their forthcoming EP, Soft Animals. They were a revelation and it is definitely worth the effort to show up early to catch their set. Holding down the “middle child” spot and leading into M83 was a DJ set from Norwegian producer and musician Magnus August Høiberg who performs under the moniker Cashmere Cat.