The Arcade Fire's signature sound is a triumphant marching beat backed by synthesizers and horns that are a throwback to such iconic groups as Talking Heads, U2, and Bruce Springsteen. The cathartic, fist-pumping boom of bass and percussion fills every molecule of the surrounding air, but the sound also strikes a comfortable balance between complexity and simplicity. In an era overrun with ironic indie rockers, this Canadian group stands out for its ability to rock the house the old-fashioned way—with infectious percussion, eclectic instrumentation, and biting lyrics.
There are bands whose live shows are identical to their recordings, and bands that like to improvise and experiment with their songs in concert. Alas, Arcade Fire falls into the first category. Last night the group played almost every tune identically to the recordings on Funeral and Neon Bible.
Of course, this tactic has its place in both small clubs (where Arcade Fire is used to playing) and large arenas (where the band is destined to play). However, last night I felt like the band missed an opportunity to blast the hell out of Roy Wilkins auditorium, a venue that has a distinct high school–auditorium feel.
Everything was in place—neon lights, five circular video screens showcasing the band members as they played, a packed floor crowd of enthusiastic and artsy youngsters, and an opening band (LCD Soundsystem) with just enough buzzworthiness to add to the grandiosity of the show, but not enough to detract from the headliner.
Then there was The Arcade Fire touring band—ten strong, with at least twice that many instruments onstage—a spectacle even when they weren't playing.
Yet despite all of this musical firepower and crowd energy, last night’s performance somehow felt anticlimactic. There were far too many awkward pauses between songs, which killed the show’s overall momentum. At first, it was refreshing—even novel—to see a band retuning and changing instruments and positions between songs, and sometimes in the middle of songs. (It’s one of the things they’re known for.) But having that gap between every song was like slamming on the brakes while you’re trying get on the freeway. It was disconcerting, because if there’s one thing these guys know how to do, it’s build momentum.
This inertia-killing awkwardness plagued the show right up to the very end. Between the first and second songs of the encore, frontman Win Butler said, "Drive safely. Bye." Then they played another song.
So much for not being an ironic indie rock band.
At first, the constant rotation of musicians playing different instruments for each song was intriguing. But by the end of the show, this literal game of musical chairs felt gratuitous—like, what can we have player X do during this song to keep him onstage?
Even though the overall show wasn't spectacular, the performers brimmed with energy—always dancing, at times running around in a manic frenzy, throwing tambourines and drums in the air.
And the setlist was an undeniable crowd-pleaser. The majority of the songs were from the überpopular 2007 release, Neon Bible, mixed with Funeral selections that had the audience singing and clapping along.
Keep the Car Running
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
No Cars Go
(Antichrist Television Blues)
Ocean of Noise
The Well and the Lighthouse
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Headlights Look Like Diamonds