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In concert: Arcade Fire at Merriweather Post Pavilion

ralph stanleyWin Butler and the Arcade Fire delivered a dizzying set at Merriweather Post Pavilion, Friday. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By Chris Klimek

Late in the Arcade Fire’s ecstatic 95-minute concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion Friday night, Régine Chassagne, singer and co-songwriter and spouse of frontman Win Butler, abandoned her post behind the piano to toss a bra (possibly a halter top; it was hard to see) back to its owner. This isn’t 1987 and we’re not Poison, her revolted glare seemed to scold.

Of course, the Montreal octet has a circa-1987 U2 vibe, what with the swirling vastness of the music; the sense of a big, important band grown huge and courting attention; and the conspicuous lack of sex ­– which is kind of weird, given how driving and propulsive the songs were. On a disco-bedlam number like “Rebellion (Lies)”, the dizzying set-closer that invited the bra-throw, all eight of the musicians were playing percussion, and shouting the lyrics whether they had microphones or not.


The approach was all hands on deck. The players frequently swapped instruments, and each one of them got to stand at the lip of the stage and feel loved. The effect was to upend the typical rock band hierarchy, replacing it with what seemed like a ramshackle, egalitarian ensemble. In the gig’s most transcendent moments, Butler seemed to cede his bandleader role entirely.

The show represented a great band’s arrival at an uncompromised maturity. It directly followed two nights at Madison Square Garden, the latter webcast live under the direction of Terry Gilliam, the unreliable genius who made “Brazil” and “12 Monkeys” and lots of movies not as good as those. Arcade Fire has graduated to big venues and A-list filmmakers at the same moment. “The Suburbs,” their just-released third album, dials back on the openness and urgency that characterized their first two albums in favor of something more anxious and interior. They played about half of “The Suburbs” on Friday, and not just the loud half, despite the insistent opening songs “Ready to Start” and “Month of May.”

“Now our lives our changing fast / Hope that something pure can last” mused Butler on another new song, “We Used to Wait,” wrapping the microphone cord around his neck noose-style while venue staffers looked on nervously.

The new songs blended perfectly with a half-dozen revived from “Funeral,” their still-stunning 2004 debut. Even more than on their none-too-shy records, the group’s live sound is an irony-dissolving, Cinerama swell that makes everything they sing feel desperately important. This combined with the whole sexlessness thing has gotten them pegged in some quarters as the poster children for the Unbearable Whiteness of Indie Rock. But if you saw them Friday night, you’d know: They’re not the new U2. They’re the white Parliament-Funkadelic.

As in: A big, amorphous group, skilled in the illusion of chaos, wherein everyone is doing something, often hitting something, at all times. There are more tambourines and maracas on stage at an Arcade Fire concert than in a second-grade music class, and who’s in charge is sometimes unclear. The tambourines have colored streamers tied to them to make them more visually alluring, and of course it’s all theater. On “Neighborhood #2 (Laika),” multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry held a drum over his head while a bandmate leapt up and down to wail on it, splinters flying off his drumsticks until only matchsticks were left. You couldn’t hear it, but it looked amazing.

Earlier, another new song,“Half Light II (No Celebration)” ­­ran aground after a single verse. Butler blamed a faulty drum machine, but it sounded like he’d simply forgotten the lyrics ­– the band took a long time to quit after Butler did.

Before an encore of “No Cars Go” "Keep the Car Running" and the “Let It Be” of the iTunes generation, “Wake Up,” Butler mentioned he’d once held a job at a Merriweather-like venue outside Houston, where he’d let fans sneak down front at every opportunity. It didn’t provoke the intended stage-rush, but it did what a great band does: Somehow demystify the music while nourishing its myth.




By Click Track  |  August 7, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Arcade Fire, Merriweather Post Pavilion, indie rock band  
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Next: In concert: Rufus Wainwright at Strathmore


Last night's concert was great and visually stunning. The glitch in the middle of the concert was disappointing but didn't ruin the vibe or the band's ability to rock.

But please correct your article to reflect the correct set-list; the encore featured "Keep the Cars Running," not a second performance of "No Cars Go..."

Posted by: ars406 | August 7, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

At first I thought the guitarist was Rick Nelson from Cheap Trick right out of 1985.

I wonder if it will be a century out before we get a decent context on how deeply integrated rock music emerged in the West.

Even though I was thinking this reminds me of Nelson on their Japan tour :)

I was reading recently about Confucius - originally he lived by the river and was content to stay there, until political discord. He LITERALLY traveled up the river bringing harmony through music- no kidding, literally promoted harmony through music.

I have wondered if music could be key to peace in Afghanistan for I observe even the Taliban connects with certain musicians playing traditional Afghan music. It seems peace might be bridged by excessive concerts with musicians that can act as a hub to which all parties respect.

Tim Miltz

Posted by: joshuaNC | August 7, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I agree that Arcade Fire were great, though the sound mix seemed muddled to me for much of the show. Spoon deserves a mention for their set as well.

Posted by: daliro | August 7, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Great lede. I was thinking the same think as I saw Régine dash across the stage. Easily one of the best rock shows I've seen.

Posted by: lennon1 | August 7, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

daliro: Totally agree, Spoon put on a great show too -- wanted them to play longer!

Posted by: ars406 | August 7, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Car songs straightened out. Thanks ars406.

Posted by: ChrisRichards | August 7, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Arcade Fire is a band that's excellent in a 9:30 club-environment, where their musicality shines. Unfortunately, the show at Merriweather was underwhelming, mostly because this band can't carry their music beyond the first 200 feet.

Finally, Merriweather really f'd up the show as everyone on the lawn could barely hear the music.

Posted by: mhammel22 | August 7, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I thought this show was amazing. To me they're actually a band whose sound carries extremely well in large environments. And that's a great point about them being the white P-Funk--some of the songs last night were just funky as hell. What a performance.

Posted by: agl132 | August 7, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Also dude, what lawn were you sitting on? I could hear great from where I was.

Posted by: agl132 | August 7, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

daliro: I'm amazed that the sound mix wasn't more muddled. With so many instruments and voices up there (plus two drum mixes and things like players trading microphones and instruments), the sound guy for this group had to be much more talented than the average sound guy.

Posted by: reston75 | August 7, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Text says one thing (no hierarchy), photos show another (the bandleader), thus seeing is disbelieving.

Posted by: JVictor | August 8, 2010 3:19 AM | Report abuse

You spend a paragraph describing how the group upended the traditional rock hierarchy, downplaying the frontman as it were, yet post five photos, all of the frontman. Maybe you didn't quite digest the idea of the "egalitarian ensemble" thing.

Oh, and JVictor done went and stole my thunder by commenting upon this as I was signing in! So I second his or her comment....

Posted by: stimso | August 8, 2010 3:41 AM | Report abuse

Merriweather's camera crew focused almost exclusively on photogenic Regine and lead singer Win Butler, getting many close-up shots of his strumming hands as though they expected him to launch into that long-awaited guitar solo.
All the great stage antics? You missed them if you were high up on the lawn and reliant on the big screen to see what was happening with the band on stage.
The concession stand kids were courteous, however.

Posted by: bb9dc | August 8, 2010 7:14 AM | Report abuse

Arcade Fire put on a good show, even if it was a bit gaudy and overproduced. But the fans ruined it for me on the lawn. Something about 17 year-old kids jumping up and down and dancing to lyrics like "Soon we will reclaim the earth/All the tears and all the bodies/Bring about our second birth" reminds me of Roger Waters' backlash against his fans prior to "The Wall."

Agree that Spoon deserves a mention. As usual, a great show put on by those guys.

Posted by: tristesse27 | August 8, 2010 7:41 AM | Report abuse

Regarding the photos, there was a step protruding from the middle of the stage that enabled Win to venture out into the crowd whenever he wanted. One of the video camera operators planted himself there for the first song and a half, making it impossible to switch sides in the photo pit. I was on the left side and got stuck there.

I finally managed to get over to the right side of the pit near the end of song #2, but the light wasn't ideal by the time I got over there and I wasn't able to get anything decent with the string section. I hustled back to the left side to set up to shoot Regine as she sang song #3 but they changed the set list and she stayed behind the drums in the back. Thus, a bunch of shots of Win. I'm not happy about it either. KG

Posted by: leafblower | August 8, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

That protruding step also prevented me from including this sentence in the review: "Spoon were pretty awesome." Real sorry I wasn't at their 9:30 Club two-nighter back in March. "Transference" has been growing steadily on me all year.

Posted by: ChrisKlimek1 | August 8, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

I have to credit the reviewer for going against the critical wave of approval that Suburbs has received (see metacritic).
I just returned from England where the band has been receiving embarrassing praise for the record.
This reviewer might want to question whether he might be missing the point of Arcade Fire. I will not argue the fact that their music is grandiose, but to say that it is "everything that is wrong with 21st century rock music"?! Can you name me another one of their contemporaries that sound like them? (sorry, U2 doesn't quite make your point). Arcade Fire actually have a very distinct sound.
But has others have mentioned, claiming that they deliver "joyless gradiosity" is just simply off the mark. It leads one to question whether the reviewer has ever seen them live (I know, I know, this is an album review but still...). If Chris Richards has seen the band live and still finds their grandiosity to be "joyless", then I question his own sense of joy and whether his sensibilities are even suitable to his role as a music critic. Of course, music critics do often tend to lack the ability to "feel"...

Posted by: christopherwren | August 8, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, my previous comment was meant for the CD review...please ignore.

Posted by: christopherwren | August 8, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

This show was okay, but:
* the show at DAR in '07 was much stronger in every way
* the new songs are weaker than anything from the first two albums
* the two best songs from the new album were ruined, the first because of the combination of equipment problems and Win forgetting the lyrics (the drum machine did seem to be out of time, but Butler was also stammering), the second (Sprawl II) because Regine didn't start the song with any confidence

Until the band can come up with some songs that compete with the best songs from Funeral, they will never get any better.

Posted by: slar | August 8, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

i thought the show was excellent, but i couldn't help thinking that it was a little overblown at times. here's a thought, every song does not have to bring the house down. much of their music is good (great) without needing to be overproduced and played as if it is Detroit Rock City or something. it was my first AF show, but i can only assume that they cut their teethe at venues far smaller than this one and that i can't be the only one who had this thought.

Posted by: bigcat999 | August 9, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

I saw them at ACL in 2005 and was completely blown away. But was I the only person at Friday's show who thought their vocals were way off? The band sounded great, but the lead singers' voices sounded like they were at the end of a 20 night tour. I bet they laid it all out at MSG and had strained their vocal cords as a result; I hear that their Lollapalooza set over the weekend was back to form.

Posted by: matthew_lawlor | August 9, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

I was @ the show and I shot a little video


Posted by: martindotcalm | August 10, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Read the dead trees edition of this, and later felt compelled to read it again, here.

I've had a hard time letting Arcade Fire grow on me ... this review helped me see that it was probably the "circa-1987 U2 vibe" coupled, as it were, with the "lack of sex."

Then, in just a few short paragraphs late, they're the new Parliament Funkadelic ... and are breaking new, egalitarian, and democratic ground like Talking Heads circa "Stop Making Sense" ... this is all sending me back to listen some more.

So I'm saying this is compelling critical writing.

Way to go, Post. Way to go, Klimek. Now excuse me, I have to go school myself on Arcade Fire.

Posted by: NickPayne | August 11, 2010 2:23 AM | Report abuse

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