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France’s M83 (real name Anthony Gonzalez) has been on the cutting edge of the now fully revived and thriving Carpenter-throwback synthwave movement for some time. Releasing Midnight City well over a decade ago (sorry to put that out there) - which coincided with the sensational soundtrack of 2011’s Drive, spearheaded by Kavinsky’s Nightdrive - put M83 at the top before there was even a top to exist, despite the fact that Gonzalez’ aesthetic was something he had been hard at work at for a full decade prior. Fast forward 12 years and we have M83 dropping Fantasy this year, another album that is unmistakably and uniquely their own, continuing their journey at the top of the retro-revival act they helped to spearhead and seeing a return to the gorgeous, enormous spaces he explored on previous records. M83 hit the Palace Theater in Saint Paul this last week as part of the similarly-named Fantasy tour.

Gonzalez is known for large, bombastic productions, effortlessly bringing together disparate sounds to create a cohesive vision, but it can really go one of two ways when someone like that takes their show on the road - you might get someone orchestrating everything behind a deck (which has its own charm - not a knock) - or you might get the route M83 goes, with a huge backing band to translate his huge sonic visions into a huge live performance. The band comes out on stage for this tour to the gentle strums that make the opening of instrumental opening track "Water Deep", easing the anticipation of the crowd into the eventual, explosive crescendo found in the middle of the follow-up "Oceans Niagara". The lights pulse and glow in seeming parallel to the eventual build to that release of tension, a perfect symbiosis with the flair of M83’s work.

This energy flows into "Amnesia", a more traditional vocal-and-drum driven affair landing the packed crowd fully into the realm of dance. This ease of traversing moods has long been a staple of the band, made all the larger and more potent by the huge ensemble of backing musicians. Soundscapes bounded from gentle and intricate to effervescent and uncontained, guiding the audience across the imaginary landscapes that one thinks of when embracing the vision that M83’s new album presents. The crew brought the Palace crowd through a great deal of the Fantasy album before harkening way back into M83’s past for tracks like "Run Into Flowers" and "Gone", both cuts from their 2003 release Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts. These older tracks played just as powerfully, demonstrating the potency of the artistic vision that has driven the various evolutions of M83s sound.

Swinging back and forth across Fantasy and older tracks, it’s not an M83 show if it doesn’t close with "Midnight City" - which the crowd went absolutely ecstatic for as the telltale shouts began echoing over the speakers, a perfect way to sign off a night of memorable, emotional music.


Joseph Dunst

Photojournalist - Minneapolis  

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