Photography by Josh Groom @JoshGroom
Expectation can be a massive burden to carry, and French electro-musician Anthony Gonzalez (aka M83) had plenty of it when releasing his seventh album, Junk earlier this year. His previous effort, 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming had been massive, scoring excellent reviews, unleashing gargantuan single ‘Midnight City’ upon the world and launching him into superstardom. Perhaps no matter what he did, Junk was inevitably cut out to be a disappointment. While his previous album had been focussed and conceptually flowing, Junk was messy and repetitive – sounding more like a bland love letter to the 80s.
Last night’s concert goers seemed unfazed by the mediocre reception to the record however, and still flocked into Sydney’s Enmore Theatre with buzzing excitement. Perhaps they knew what I was about to find out…Junk was meant to be heard live.
Although ‘Reunion’ from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming opened the gig with a suitable amount of energy, second track ‘Do It, Try It’ set the true agenda for the evening. Despite the lead single from Junk receiving a lukewarm response when first released, you never would have realised it last night. The opening, jolty piano riff got the crowd smiling and head bopping, but the true frenzy started when the slap bass came in and made its aggressive presence felt throughout the Enmore. Even those in seats found themselves awkwardly shuffling their booties back and forth, appearing satisfied but internally regretting their decision to not enter the mosh. Junk may have felt like a mediocre imitation of the 80s, but its live show felt like a true recreation of it, complete with a flashy ‘disco-meets-trance’ light show. Oh yeah, and a motherfucking saxophone.
Initially disappointing songs like ‘Road Blaster’ and ‘Bibi the Dog’ were given a new, much more enjoyable lease on life. Particularly impressive however were the cuts from Junk which allowed Gonzalez to show off his protégé – young instrumentalist Jordan Lawlor. Whether providing slap bass on ‘Do It, Try It’, screaming guitar solos on ‘Go!’ or echoing vocals on ‘Walkway Blues’, Lawlor was the true musical MVP.
Although he may be the primary songwriter for M83, Gonzalez knows how to respect the strength of his live band, and he often took a back seat and allowed them to shine when needed. Particularly impressive was newest member Kaela Sinclair’s take on ‘Oblivion’, originally featuring Norwegian singer Susanne Sundfør. “I hope they fly Susanne out for this one!” one of my friends joked at the start of the song. I hate to break the news, but Sinclair’s ability to hit even the highest notes with ease meant that Susanne wasn’t missed – sorry in advance if I just ruined the possibility for free flights.
Other, non-Junk highlights came in the form of epic closer ‘Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun’ and, as to be expected, ‘Midnight City’. Although perhaps overplayed, it’s easy to see why the latter became such a massive hit. The crowd didn’t even attempt to sing along to the lyrics, instead opting to imitate its catchy as hell riff.
The only real downfall of the evening was its poorly planned setlist, which resulted in more than a few moments where songs began to blend and mix into indiscernible messes. It can be fun to lose yourself in moments like these, but unfortunately, the primary thing lost was the audience’s attention.
Moreover, whilst the triple-threat of ‘Oblivion’, ‘Go!’ and ‘Midnight City’ made for the evening’s highest energy point, its placement near the middle of the set saw the band “prematurely shooting their ward”, to quote Arrested Development’s Tobias. Unfortunately, the rest of the gig and even the encore could never quite match these lofty heights.
Messiness of the setlist aside, M83 truly managed to salvage Junk last night and, I’ll happily admit, convert me into a fan of the album. It may still sound derivative, but goddamn it’s a fun listen!