A hiatus of over five years created an eager sense of anticipation when M83’s follow up to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was announced. As often happens in this scenario, Junk was perhaps unfairly seen as a bit of an anti-climax. Anthony Gonzalez single-minded vision to mould something from the rose-tinted disco and TV highlights of the 70s and 80s has not been appreciated by all. Ultimately, it seems that these influences and homages have resulted in a record that may be difficult to appreciate in your front room or car. There may be only one place that we can really appreciate Gonzalez’s vision therefore and that is in the live arena. Tonight, the people of Manchester are going to find out if this is truly the case.
On Dead Waves occupy the support slot tonight, performing in front of an eager crowd for only the second time in their short existence. Consisting of singer-songwriter Polly Scattergood and guitarist James Chapman of Maps fame, the duo released their understated, eponymously titled debut record in the spring, gently fusing together respective talents to create a eerily smoldering and seductive experience. Unlike M83, the qualities of songs such as Blackbird and concert opener Dead Balloons only really truly reveal themselves when consumed in more intimate, less distracting surroundings and the menacing intensity of their presentation is lost somewhat this evening as M83’s crowd are still piling in to the venue. For those on the front rail willing to invest their undivided attention on this intriguing duo though, the potential of On Dead Waves is clear to see. Polly’s restrained, ethereal vocals are captivating and latest single California, performed mid-set, is a joy as the tempo increases offering a ray of hope beyond the darker material that preceded it. Although the slot is brief, the duo’s ability to create such a portentous atmosphere with such ease suggests that there is real mileage in this collaboration. After waiting seven years to see Polly after she seduced us all with her incredible debut solo record, tonight was a real pleasure!
M83 delivered an acclaimed performance at Glastonbury the day before and they dramatically appear through the shadows to raucous applause ready to do it all over again for an eager Manchester audience. Reunion opens proceedings and the energy and continental élan the band possess is instant and incredibly infectious. Do It follows and Gonzalez excels in the role of magnetic ringleader during these opening tracks. His undulating energy grips the crowd, generating such a positive experience that it is hard to not get caught up in proceedings, but it is Jordon Lawler, initially on bass but later providing spectacular moments on guitar, particularly during the solo for Go! who almost steals the show. Steve Vai (who performed on the same stage only a fortnight ago – photos here) provides the gloriously over the top solo on the album for this track and Lawler matches the master with ease producing a thrillingly virtuoso moment synonymous with the whole era Gonzalez is aping on Junk. Glorious stuff indeed!
Although the whole evening provides life-affirming moments, it is the second half of the show that really defines proceedings. Mai Lan had already joined the gang for the gloriously retro Laser Gun before contributing to Go! but the largest cheer of the evening so far arrives with the next track. Midnight City may have gained ubiquity after the London Olympics claimed the song in 2012 but it has not lost any of its ability to get it’s hooks in you and once again, the live experience enhances the track to even greater heights, making it an experience to remember. Ethereal moments follow with Outro and once again, the ubiquity of the track five years ago is forgotten as we are bathed in the glow that spreads as the gorgeous synths and vocals wash over us. All these moments are enhanced by a spectacular lighting design that create the impression that the band are performing amidst the rooftops of a sprawling metropolis one moment, followed by roving searchlights revealing the ecstatic crowd as they revel in this joyous presentation of sound, vocals and exuberant stagecraft.
On Dead Waves
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto