M83 and Kaela Sinclair Cut Through the Noise at House of Blues

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With Tennysons
House of Blues, Dallas
Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016

M83, fronted by the French-bred Anthony Gonzalez, played House of Blues on Thursday, but it was a homecoming for one of the band's members: Kaela Sinclair. The Dentonite is a musical powerhouse in her own right. Sinclair earned best pianist/keyboardist from the Dallas Observer Music Awards in 2015 before she auditioned and was picked up by the band last February, beating out hundreds of other applicants who submitted video auditions, according to a tweet from Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’s mostly stoic and understated stage presence was upstaged by Sinclair, his saxophonist and his backup guitarist who deftly thrashed around the stage in a one-man dance party while playing his guitar and electric drums.

Sinclair, anchoring the stage at the other end, shone during her solos — and there were many. Her debut came early in the set during “We Own the Sky.” Backed by starry night scenery of a blue sky dotted with pin lights, Sinclair’s voice pierced the heavy air in the crowded room, and was the only one with the ability to make scalps tingle and hair stand on end.

And the magic lasted. Each time Sinclair had a solo, she drew cheers from the largely distracted crowd. It’s hard to say whether the audience was cheering for its hometown girl or was snapped out of its talkative lull by Sinclair’s powerful voice.
The saxophonist, who also played what looked to be an electric oboe and second keyboard, also had a chance to shine during the sax-heavy songs, of which there are many — like “Road Blaster” from the new album, which relies heavily on ’80s-influenced sax riffs.

Maybe it’s the easy-listening feel to most of M83’s discography and Gonzalez’s dreamy, unobtrusive voice (which is almost instrumental), but many in the crowd used the music as a soundtrack to their socializing, taking the opportunity to catch up on conversation during the set, which became very obvious and disruptive during the quieter songs.

Aside from the backup musicians, the stage set-up itself stole the show. Faux scaffolding towers and LED light bars were artfully placed around the stage, askew at odd angles. The light bars subtly waved back and forth during certain pieces. Paired with the backdrop that turned into a starry night during certain songs, and the laser-beams style spotlights that shone into the audience, the lights were something to see and thankfully cut through most of the b.s. in House of Blues that made it difficult to enjoy the concert.

The venue wasn’t conducive to M83’s show, or maybe any show for that matter, as more than half of the general admission floor space had been converted (with bullpens) into a seated VIP area full of white-tableclothed high tops for the hefty sum of $75 to $200, depending on how close the table was to the stage. (It should be noted that 75 percent of those hightop tables were empty.)
While not a terrible idea on it’s own, the VIP is wholly out of place in this smallish venue and squeezes the general-admission ticket holders to the sides, back and front of the venue. Also, good luck seeing the stage if you were behind VIP. Multiple columns, drapes, low-hanging signs and groupings of electrical cords obscured the view from the back and sides of the house.

HOB, which touts an upscale feel and has price points to match — tickets for M83 started at $35 and a 24-ounce PBR is $10 — has taken itself down many notches with this poorly executed layout. It even went so far as to have a buffet and pop-up bar (in addition to the three main bars) fighting for space with VIP and all of the general admission ticket holders. There’s too much visual noise and crowding going on, making the room look more like a fair ground than an upscale venue.

Thankfully, the diehard M83 fans got a show they could be happy about. The band was cohesive, the solos were on point and their energy was strong. During rare moments, Gonzalez let loose with unabashed passion. He did a guitar tango with his backup guitarist, crossing the stage in lockstep, and later in the set he was on his knees at the front of the stage shredding the guitar. From 10 rows back it looked as if the veins in his neck were bulging.

According to his wiki page, Gonzalez bought a synth when he was a teenager and learned music, having become fed up with soccer after being injured. He still retains that bedroom pop feeling, almost like he’s jamming out by himself rather than performing for an audience, which could have led to some of the apparent disconnect between performer and audience for anyone but the most ardent fans. Now that Gonzalez plays world stages with a full band backing him, the performative quality shines through in the other musicians, allowing Gonzalez to play off their energy and still do his own thing. 

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