M83 and Active Child 11/9 Music Box at Fonda Los Angeles Review

Wednesday night at the Music Box was a homecoming for two of Los Angeles’ finest acts – M83 and Active Child. The sold-out show was evidence that each act was enjoying a great deal of success this year. Under the moniker Active Child, Pat Grossi’s debut You Are All I See has garnered tons of critical acclaim from the press, making him one of the surprise acts of the year. For M83, Anthony Gonzalez and company released their sixth studio album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, last month. Technically it’s a double album, but nonetheless, it ended up debuting on the Billboard charts at #15. How’s that for success?

Supporting M83 was the lone opener for the night, Active Child. This has been an act that I have failed to see during his residency at the Echo because it was sold-out (or “at capacity”) each night. It’s not often that an act can gain so much popularity in only a few months span, but Pat Grossi’s unique music style certainly has that ability. Beginning his set with an intro leading into “High Priestess,” Grossi immediately showed off his spectacular falsetto that is akin to Jónsi of Sigur Rós. It certainly helps that he was a member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir as a child. His voice is nearly angelic, especially on songs “Shield & Sword” and “See Thru Eyes.”

The instrumental set-up was rather minimal, but with the layers of ambience created by the synths, the electronic percussion, and the haunting vocal melodies, each song was highly textured. Grossi also played his signature harp (which doesn’t make him the male equivalent of Joanna Newsom whatsoever) and proved that his proficiency at playing the instrument on “Hanging On,” where the delicate and intricate notes was enough to hypnotize the crowd. It was interesting to see how Grossi would handle the vocals on “Playing House” since How to Dress Well provided guest vocals on the album, but Grossi seemed comfortable switching from his high falsettos to hitting the deeper notes. He ended the night with “Johnny Belinda,” that featured ethereal synth washes and subtle percussion that provided as a nice segue to the headlining act.

As the clock hit 10:05 PM on the dot, the curtains lifted to unveil a person dressed up as the figure on the cover of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Along with the bright LED’s and the twinkling lights in the background, it definitely set the mood as gave the message that the crowd was about to go through some kind of sci-fi, out-of-this-world experience.

Anthony Gonzalez, Morgan Kibby, and the rest of the band came out to begin their set with the appropriately titled “Intro” from the new album. The Los Angeles crowd was treated with a huge surprise as local native Nika Danzilova (otherwise known as Zola Jesus) came out to sing her part on the song. This should be reason enough why Zola Jesus and M83 must collaborate more in the future. Danzilova’s haunting and operatic voice contrasted beautifully with Gonzalez’ own newfound singing style. His new singing style was more prominent on the follow-up song “Reunion,” as his voice was more resonant, dynamic, and “pop-like” that actually stood out above the instrumentation. In his earlier work, his vocals usually faded out behind the rest of the music.

If the crowd somehow wasn’t pulled in two songs into the set, they were certainly pulled in by fan-favorite “Kim & Jessie,” a cut from their album Saturdays=Youth. Keyboardist and vocalist Morgan Kibby had her share in the spotlight on “We Own the Sky.” She proved that she is a highly capable lead vocalist as she sang over the arpeggiated synths and pounding percussion.

The new songs live was a sign that Gonzalez wasn’t afraid to take his music beyond any boundaries, creating songs that were different from the past. Producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, Nine Inch Nails) even came out to play bass on a couple of songs. “Wait” was more of a ballad in its stripped down nature as Gonzalez sang over the guitar before reaching the climax where drummer Loic Maurin jammed out behind his kit to end the song. The single “Midnight City” was more crushing live, with good interplay between electronic and acoustic percussion, and a more prominent bass line. And yes, a saxophone player did come out (wearing sunglasses) to play the sexy saxophone solo at the end.

But the biggest highlights came from the album Before the Dawn Heals Us. The escalating synths and soundscape of “Teen Angst” were as beautiful as ever and seemed too small to be played inside the Music Box, while “A Guitar and a Heart” got re-done into a European dance party to end the night.

For the encore, M83 came out to play a pair of songs with the Kibby-led “Skin of the Night” and the ultimate dance party song “Colours,” where their touring guitarist stood atop the drum kit and got everyone in the crowd to clap.

If there was a show where you can totally “space-out” to, this was it. The ambient and electronic foundation that both Active Child and M83 base their music on was enough to launch the entire audience into the stars. For those unfortunate to get tickets to this show shouldn’t fret. M83 will be back in Los Angeles to play Club Nokia on January 13, 2012, so buy tickets this weekend before they sell out.

Set list:

Kim & Jessie
Year One, One UFO
My Tears Are Becoming a Sea
Teen Angst
We Own the Sky
Steve McQueen
This Bright Flash
Claudia Lewis
Midnight City
A Guitar and a Heart


Skin of the Night

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  1. M83 – “Steve McQueen” and “Intro” (ft. Zola Jesus) 2/3 Last Call | The Audio Perv
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