My patronus during M83’s evening set at Austin City Limits Music Festival was a woman in a black Louise Brooks-style wig, a few real hairs wisping out from under the bob, who was wearing red eyelash appliques and one of those fake tattoo sleeves made of stretchy fabric. She was dancing without a care in the world. There was something about her costume and her lack of inhibition that fit the mood of the most bombastic, sax-loving space rockers to come out of France.
There’s certainly nothing real about M83’s cinematic, synthy opuses, which sounded forever like the soundtrack to a sci-fi flick Friday. They perfected a blend of resonant electro-tones, continuous crescendos and mysteriously faraway robo-vocals that constantly flirted with intergalactic absurdity. I mean, c’mon. These are the lyrics to show opener “Reunion” (the one with all the oh-oh-ohs):
Across the time and space
A never-ending dance
A blooming and a trance
You make me feel my soul
There’s no more loneliness
Only sparkles and sweat
There’s no more single fate
You make me feel myself
There is no way on Earth or any other planet that you’re supposed to take that entirely at face value.
After the third sax solo at M83’s set, I surrendered to the laser lights and let Anthony Gonzalez and crew take me away. Kaela Sinclair’s bewitching vocals sounded like ten ladies singing at once, her purple-and-red hair and lace-up Morticia Addams gown making the whole set seem a little more supernatural. Jordan Lawlor, running in place when he took to a drum, at times felt like he was keeping the whole show spinning in orbit.
Not every song was a warp-drive psych trip. “Do It, Try It” was suitably sinister in a ragtime sort of way, and “Go!” featured the most shameless electric guitar solo this side of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” As M83 was given to extended, clattering jam sessions, they occasionally wandered into (beautiful) monotony. “Road Blaster,” a slinky slice of noir rock, help bust up galactic grandeur a bit.
The evening ended in a final sonic wormhole, but the functional end of the show was slightly before that, during the “Midnight City” that those who don’t normally listen to French dance rock came for. People in the crowd mimicked that famous synth line with their mouths, right as the sun went down for good. Those same people were probably the ones that lost their damn minds when the sax emerged from nowhere to bleat the sexiest riff in the universe from the edge of stage.
M83 might be wearing a bit of a musical costume, but as far as special effects go, they’re fully committed to the illusion. And I’m a believer.