In concert: Arcade Fire at Merriweather Post Pavilion
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.
August 7, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories: In concert | Tags: Arcade Fire, Merriweather Post Pavilion, indie rock band
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