"M" Is For Maestro

Posted by Pete DeMola on 21. Jun 2010

By Francis Tseng

BEIJING, JUNE 21 - I was first introduced to the renowned Mathiéu Chedid -- a multi-instrumentalist who performs under the alter-ego "M" -- only a week ago. He was described to me as a force of nature -- a veritable titan of French music, a school that is better known around the world for its contributions to the dance and electronic scenes than for its rock and roll heroes.

Although French rock has never really caught my attention, his reputation (and M-shaped hair) was enough to draw my interest.

But when I heard he was on tour to promote his new album, last year's Mister Mystére, I had to take the opportunity to experience this spectacle for myself.

Local veterans New Pants opened the show with a sweeping instrumental before dipping into their synth-driven pop pieces. For such upbeat songs, the band wasn't initially very engaging, but their mediocre stage presence eventually crescendoed into something much more captivating, as each member sprung to life -- even their bored-looking bassist.

The drummer led the crowd with power fist count-ins as guitarist/vocalist Peng Lei (the only guy I could identify, by the way) traversed the stage in wild jumps, catching air with his axe and floating rock-star vibes with his long, flailing hair.

Image: New Pants slowly gets into the groove.

The keyboardist stood in a very rigid Kraftwerkesque pose over his laptop, eventually throwing off his Mao-style jacket and taking over the microphone with punk shouts; he marched on the stage to raucous, militant distorted guitars and thundering drums.

Their energetic performance paved the way for the headlining Frenchman, a man who has a built his career on highly dynamic and flamboyant performances.

Image: M shreds.

M, 38, has been playing music since he was six and it shows: he is an expert at controlling the crowd, knowing how to pace a song and lead the audience with moods in his melodies.

His banter with the crowd, who were almost entirely cigarette-smoking Frenchmen, was lost on me.

Je ne parle pas français.

However, judging from the audience's response, whatever he said was always well-received. He referred to them as his family several times, highlighting a sense of community that was illustrated throughout the two-hour show.

I was indifferent to whatever language was being sung or spoken - the show was much more about sheer visual spectacle and aural delight; what I thought was going to be a straight-forward rock concert blossomed into an ambitious production that ranged from choreographed dancing to costume changes and musical skits.

There were homages to his new album's videos, and songs came to life when lyrics were played out in costume.

At times, he shared the stage with his skeletal doppleganger, who simply danced alongside him.

He was also visited by Captain America, who proudly munched on cornflakes (an in-joke for the French).

And at one point, he inexplicably appeared on the second floor to serenade us from the balcony.

His popularity was evident in the turnout, as was his universal appeal - he drew what seemed to be Beijing's entire French population (see below), both young and old, who took over the entirety of the large venue.

Image: Beijing's entire French population.

The front row was occupied by children who eventually became part of the show, an example of his ability to involve everyone in the performance.

Praising his fans for their energy, they were in turn happy to oblige in whatever he requested of them, from sitting down or singing along to dancing alongside him on stage.

In the spirit of classic rock, much of the concert was a frame with which to showcase his guitar-playing prowess, which was impressive to say the least.

His handling of his customized instrument was nothing short of masterful, effortlessly ripping through riffs as they were tissue; cutting through chords as if they were butter.

He literally sunk his teeth into his guitar, the strings sang as he tapped his way along the neck.

The show was even more so a display of M's abilities in general.

A man of many talents, he would lead his bandmates -- included dancers, guitarists, a bassist, keyboardist, drummers, and even his own sister -- in dance, and could even beatbox with machine-gun stutters.

After his set came to an end, the Frenchmen lusted for more, and he returned to sate their appetites with not just one song, but an hour-long encore set of his greatest hits which culminated in more dancing and jamming until the masses were finally satisfied.

The excitement around him is obvious after becoming mesmerized by his stageshow. And his strangely-styled hair is a testament to his ability to compose a wonderful, bizarre celebration.

All photos by Kira Simon-Kennedy.

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