Over the last ten years, Arcade Fire has quickly ascended from blogged-about indie favorites to the Grammy-winning kings of arena rock, updating their sound but keeping their indie aesthetics intact. They’ve gained a legion of devotees calling them the “greatest band in the world” and plenty of haters who think they’re pretentious, bloated, and boring. If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that Arcade Fire is a big band. Made up of seven members, this is a group that makes grandiose rock anthems, sweeping double albums, and electronic experiments that last seven minutes. Arcade Fire lived up to this reputation for all-things-epic with a magnificent show August 19 at the Xfintiy Center in Mansfield, MA.
The show begin in a distinctly weird way. John William’s Jurassic Park theme blared triumphantly from the speakers, while a group of bobble head-masked oddballs entered the stage. About those bobble heads: bizarrely oversized paper-maiche heads of the Pope, Obama, and the members of Arcade Fire. Many fans were expecting the band to be hidden those inside those bobble heads (they’ve been known for playing shows in masks) but then lead-singer Win Butler walked onto the stage. “What’s going on here?”, he asked the masked-intruders. Those impostors quickly made way for the real band, made up of about 15 multi-instrumentalists led by Butler and wife Regine Chassagne. After thanking the audience for attending, Butler and co. launched into an electrifying rendition of guitar-driven rocker “Normal Person”, off their latest album Reflektor. The band injected the song with a visceral blast of startling exhilaration that had everyone on their feet. (In comparison, the recorded version sounds bizarrely muted.)
That level of excitement remained unwavering, as they launched into one of their most beloved songs, “Rebellion (Lies)” from debut album Funeral (2004). All the fans joined in for the chorus of “Every time you close your eyes, lies! Lies!” After the infectious punk-stomp “Joan of Arc” and syncopated piano ballad “We Used To Wait”, Butler announced “This next one’s called The Suburbs.” What followed was one of the night’s quietest, most beautiful, altogether unforgettable moments. With a dual-image video screen playing the song’s video, Butler took to the piano for one of the band’s best songs.
Of course, there were other highlights. The one-two-three punch of Reflektor tracks (“Reflektor”, “Flashbulb Eyes”, “Afterlife”) highlighted the album’s danceable vibe, sophisticated production, and mix of clever nods to New Wave and disco and the artsy-sprawl the band is known for. And who could forget Win Butler, lying on the stage, singing a snippet of “My Body Is A Cage”?
Giving the show another dimension, Regine Chassagne stood on a small platform above the mosh pit for the wonderful but overlong “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)”, with a man in a skeleton costume eerily dancing behind her. She stayed in the audience for “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, a synth based track from The Suburbs. “Happy birthday, Regine!”, Win Butler shouted to his wife, making her spotlighted performance all the more special.
“Thank you so much for coming out!”, Butler told the audience, as the band walked offstage. Guitarist Richard Reed Parry even waved goodbye. But fans were still expecting an encore, which the band more than delivered.
Keeping with the band’s tradition of honoring cities’ musical past, Butler shouted out “We wrote this one about Boston. It’s called “Less than a Feeling.”” The audience was slightly confused, but still entertained, as Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” played on the speakers. Taking the Boston tribute a step further, the band covered Pixies’ “Alec Eiffel”.
Then came three of the band’s best songs. First came “Here Comes the Night Time”, which starts as with a rapid parade drum beat, then morphs into something resembling Reggae pop. As the song climaxes with more pounding drums, confetti blasted everywhere. It was an indelible, exhilarating moment that concertgoers won’t soon forget. They tried to top that performance, twice more. First, the rousing “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”, which had fans singing and dancing along. Then, to close out the show, the band performed encore-favorite “Wake Up”, one of the most important indie-rock tracks of the 2000’s. It’s an invigorating and moving listen on CD, but in concert (with 20 performers onstage, bashing drums, strumming that guitar riff, singing the chorus) it’s an exhilarating, unforgettable concert moment.
If there was a unifying theme that bound all these songs together, from the infectious indie anthems of Funeral to the biblical disco experiments of Reflektor, it was the band’s ability to take audiences on a musical journey with each song. With the band rarely stopping between songs, it’s hard not to get lost in the epic sweep of those catchy synths, those booming drums, that squealing guitar. Love ’em or hate ’em, Arcade Fire sure knows how to put on a good show – the kind of concert you won’t soon forget.