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M83 doesn’t play by the numbers

M83 performed Wednesday night at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland.
M83 performed Wednesday night at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland. rsugg@kcstar.com

The innovative pop musician Anthony Gonzalez of M83 displayed his affection Wednesday for some of the schmaltziest sounds of previous decades. At the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland, more than 2,000 fans attended the extraordinarily odd but entirely captivating concert.

In 2001, Gonzalez co-founded M83 in his native France. After developing a strong reputation in underground circles, the sophisticated electronic pop group became a global sensation with the release of the 2011 album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.”

Gonzalez is currently touring in support of the agreeably strange “Junk,” M83’s seventh studio album and first release in more than four years.

After spending much of his career inventing new sounds, Gonzalez’s new album revisited styles that have been roundly dismissed. On Wednesday, he and five supplementary musicians re-created the awkward funk associated with Blondie’s 1981 hit “Rapture” on a rendition of the new song “Laser Gun.”

A reading of “For the Kids” was the sort of maudlin ballad that made Michael Bolton a star 25 years ago. An over-the-top saxophone solo provided the finishing touch.

Not every selection from “Junk” was jarring. “Do It, Try It” acted as an exhilarating tribute to the dance music of the 1980s. By flashing color schemes and graphics associated with 1980s touchstones like TV’s “Miami Vice,” the impressive visual effects corroborated M83’s throwback approach.

The audience responded favorably to the new compositions, but older material received the biggest ovations. “We Own the Sky,” a fan favorite from 2008, sounded vastly superior to the recorded version. It was unclear which elements of the 80-minute performance were live, but a bassist and drummer bolstered several selections with sinewy playing.

A faithful re-creation of “Midnight City,” the 2011 breakout hit that features a sonic squiggle that resembles the ping emitted by a submarine’s sonar, elicited the most effusive response. Even so, the feet of many fans remained rooted to the floor throughout the concert.

Their torpor wasn’t reflected by Gonzalez. Unlike many electronic music producers, he doesn’t hide behind a console of computers. Gonzalez was physically invested in his material from his position at the front and center of the stage. His pinched and highly processed singing on “Wait” provided the most emotionally resonant moments of the evening.

Kaela Sinclair provided more conventional crooning on “Oblivion,” the theme song of a 2013 science fiction film starring Tom Cruise. Like a glimpse into a technologically advanced society that’s deeply nostalgic for an earlier era, Wednesday’s concert was similarly fanciful.

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