I saw Arcade Fire play live last night. This was something I had been anticipating for over four years, which is really not that much time, but it feels like it, especially in the context of how my tastes have changed. So before I talk about the show, a bit of ~personal history time~: Very late 2006 marked when I started actively seeking out new music on my own. I ended up going through a variety of established indie-type bands, e.g. The Flaming Lips, Slint, Patrick Wolf, etc. I liked most of what I heard, but it wasn't until I played this album Funeral by these guys Arcade Fire that I found something to which I wanted to listen over and over and over and over. This was before I cared anything about bit rates or proper tagging or whatnot, so I have no idea from where I downloaded it, and for all I know it could have been the shittiest-sounding rip in the world, but this music wormed its way through my ears and tugged hard at my heart. And so Arcade Fire became the first band I found "on my own" whom I absolutely unashamedly wholeheartedly loved. My enthusiasm waned slightly with age, and that kind of head-over-heels infatuation gradually passed to Owen Pallett's music, where it still remains. But Arcade Fire are still one of my favorites, and I could not pass up this opportunity to see them perform live.
First, the opening act deserve a few sentences. I had no prior experience with Local Natives, and I forgot to do a cursory listen of their material, so when these four dudes walked on stage, one of whom was sporting a particularly noteworthy "hipster-type" mustache, I had no idea what to expect. What I got was a really great performance. The music wasn't anything groundbreaking, but it still was some pretty engaging folk-inspired rock, and what I especially enjoyed were the generous helpings of vocal harmonies. They reminded me a bit of Fleet Foxes, whom I have been beginning to enjoy lately, so the tunes hit a good spot. The lead singer introduced one of their earlier songs as being inspired by a trip to Colorado, and it was one of my favorites from the 45 minute set. I downloaded their album, and, while it did not have the bombastic advantage of a live setting, it was still pretty good, and I will be waiting eagerly for their follow-up (they mentioned they were starting to work on it).
As much of a pleasant surprise as the Local Natives were, however, my reason for being there that evening was the Arcade Fire. There was a half-hour wait between the Natives' set and Arcade Fire's performance, during which the stagehands soundchecked the ~50 instruments (I really don't think this is an exaggeration) scattered on and off the stage. Behind the instruments was a large screen, above which there was a marquee, like you would see at an older movie theatre. When the lights dimmed, the screen lit up with what looked like stock footage from some '50s educational film on the suburbs. This was followed by the "CAN YOU DIG IT?" scene from The Warriors, after which the band, led by Win, marched onstage and immediately started their set with, appropriately enough, "Ready to Start."
I should remind readers that I did not much care for The Suburbs when it was released last year. I was disappointed that Arcade Fire had seemed to cast away much of the baroqueness of their previous two albums and instead had made a much more straightforward rock record. The songs did not grab me with the immediacy of their past material, and I ended up putting the album aside after a few listens. I was not particularly kind to it in my 2010 retrospective, but I have to admit that it has grown on me significantly since then. It is still my least favorite album of theirs so far, but I have accepted that there is room yet in my heart for rock music, and I can say comfortably that I like The Suburbs a whole lot. Hearing some of these songs in a live setting helped to cement that.
I think they played about half of the tracks from The Suburbs. My favorite was "Rococo," which brimmed with intensity and was quite fun to sing along with. "The Suburbs" was also nice to hear, in all of its piano-driven jauntiness, and "We Used to Wait" remained one of the more emotionally charged songs even in the live setting, with clips of postcards and letters displayed on the screen.
The highlights for me, though, were the older songs. I think "Keep the Car Running" was the second song, which was what really started getting me moving. From Neon Bible, they also played "No Cars Go" and "Intervention," both of which blasted my body incessantly with sound and were so, so, so good to hear up close. They played a good bit of Funeral as well. The first one they played from that, still my favorite Arcade Fire album, was "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)," which I happily screamed along to. Pretty much every Funeral song was imbued with an energy that permeated both the band and the crowd, and we moved and sung like crazy people to "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)," "Wake Up," and the closer, "Rebellion (Lies)."
The middle of the show had a cool "Regine Block," where the band played three Regine-driven songs in a row, starting with "Haiti." The band had just returned from a visit to Haiti, where they checked out the ongoing relief efforts they were helping fund and also played a concert, I believe, and you could tell Regine put her heart into the performance. This was followed by "Empty Room" and finally "Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Mountains)," which drips with enough '80s kitsch to make it one of my favorites from The Suburbs.
Win didn't speak a whole lot between songs, but he was pretty amusing when he did. At one point he said the didn't know whether to call us Boulder or Denver, since Broomfield is located almost exactly midway between the two, and the crowd was probably evenly split between both cities. So he decided to call us "the suburbs of Denver," which I though was cute and elicited much cheering from the crowd.
Music aside, the production of the show was something to behold in and of itself. On stage, there were eight people and a ridiculous collection of instruments, including and not limited to an upright piano, an organ, several keyboards, a xylophone, a double bass painted silver, two full drum kits, an accordion, a hurdy-gurdy, two violins, and too many acoustic and electric guitars to count. Between every song, the band members and instruments would shift places onstage, which became nearly mesmerizing to watch. Perhaps my favorite part of the night, though, was that the band seemed to get into the songs as much as I was, and the joy of eight people doing something they obviously love is infectious.
Overall, the set lasted a little over an hour and a half. Of course, I would have liked them to have gone longer, but I can hardly complain. There were a few songs I wish I could have heard, namely "Suburban War," "(Antichrist Television Blues)," and "In the Backseat," but, honestly, I could go on to list their entire repertoire if left to my own devices. The set they played was amazing.
I do not have any pictures or video for this concert. I got too engrossed into the music to want to worry about that, and I go to a concert like this to see the fucking concert. In retrospect, I wonder if I might be the worst kind of concertgoer to be around, since I was jumping, dancing, singing, and screaming with all of my strength for the duration of Arcade Fire's set. These concerts are becoming one of the few instances where I completely let go of my inhibitions without the aide of any controlled substances (although the pot being smoked right next to me may have helped a bit in this case). But the way I figure it, if you are right in front of the center of the stage (which is about where I was, but one row back and a bit to stage right) and you are not acting like a lunatic at an Arcade Fire show, then you are doing it wrong.
I am not going to forget this performance anytime soon. It was literally a dream of mine come true, to see some of my heroes of music in person. I have read many times that Arcade Fire shows can be akin to a religious experience, but I have to disagree. Nothing about the Catholic Church has ever spurned me to scream my throat raw with joy, to dance until I was so pleasantly sore and weak with fatigue, to leave a building with such a rush of euphoria. This concert was so much better than any "religious" experience I have had. But if you find me a church which opens its ceremonies with "Wake Up" and closes with "Rebellion (Lies)," all the while the congregation shouts "Lies! Lies!" as the pastor beats the shit out of a drum with a microphone, then you know where to find me on Sunday mornings.