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  • Live Review: M83 with the L.A. Philharmonic – Disney Hall - Los Angeles, CA

    Mon, 09 Mar 2009 11:41:50

    Live Review: M83 with the L.A. Philharmonic – Disney Hall - Los Angeles, CA - Saturdays=Strings

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    M83’s Saturdays=Youth was a deserving favorite of critics in 2008, a electronic paean from French musician Anthony Gonzalez to the pop culture of the American ‘80s—in particular the film worlds of John Hughes. Songs like “Kim & Jessie” and “Graveyard Girl” were among the most joyous and accessibly poppy of Gonzalez’s career.

    When the opportunity arose for a one-off collaboration with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, though, he knew that his set list would have to go in a different direction—opting for the ambient electro-compositions of his earlier albums. Ambience can imply minimalism, but there is little that is unassuming about Gonzalez’s music, particularly as he’s become more and more confident with his craft. If he was, in fact, a filmmaker, there would surely be some of those Hughesian light touches to his work, but there would just as surely be plenty of big Oscar moments, fearlessly toeing the line between transcendental and over-the-top.

    Longtime and soon outgoing LA Phil music director Esa-Pekka Salonen prides his orchestra on their forward-thinking philosophy, and their embrace of M83—an indie favorite but hardly a major mainstream attraction—just goes to further that reputation. Gonzalez started the night with a meditative solo mini-set, showcasing and reimagining some of his formative ambient work. The Disney is famous for both its architecture and its acoustics, and the latter certainly helped the diverse audience become immersed in Gonzalez’s show, even as the visuals were limited to a small man hunched over a few keyboards, Star Trek¬ lights and the requisite laptop, occasionally doing an enthusiastic hip thrust as he built a crescendo.

    Gonzalez then ceded the stage to the Philharmonic for two pieces. First up was a gripping rendition of Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,” played beautifully by a scaled-down version of the orchestra—no brass needed—and anchored by an ominous strike of timpani. The piece was the perfectly chosen counterpart for the side of M83 on display this evening. After intermission came Claude Debussy’s legendary, three-part “La Mer”—which, as conductor Julian Kuerti acknowledged—provided more of an opportunity for the full orchestra to flex their considerable muscle.

    By this point, Gonzalez had been off stage for an hour and was starting to feel like an opening act. He returned, but had some difficulty pulling the spotlight back, sometimes looking like a curious spectator to his own music, standing by his computer while an animated and impassioned Kuerti led the flesh-and-blood musicians. Kinks were to be expected, given it was Gonzalez’s first experience with this sort of collaboration; “Lower Your Eyelids To Die” and “In The Cold I’m Standing” (from Before The Dawn Heals Us) are both fine songs, but didn’t find their footing with the orchestra amidst busy arrangements. But when the pieces came together, it was like watching Gonzalez get to summon the classic roots of his contemporary music for the first time; this is a guy who blasts Pärt and Debussy in his tour bus, after all. On the dramatic “Moonchild” or even Gonzalez’s remix rendition of Bloc Party’s “The Pioneers,” the marriage between digital and classical seemed simply sublime.

    —Adam McKibbin

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