Arcade Fire at Roy Wilkins, 9/22/10
Roy Wilkins, St. Paul
If there were any remaining doubts, one thing should be absolutely clear after last night's show in St. Paul: Arcade Fire have grown up. The band who kicked off their world tour to a full and enthusiastic crowd at the Roy Wilkins were a far cry from the bereaved and uncertain youngsters we came to know on Funeral.
Instead, they were celebratory and purposeful -- and in the process reinforced what has always truly been at the heart of their music's appeal. (As if that, too, were still in question.)
For the duration of the hour-and-40-minute show, the Montreal eight-piece never gave anything less than their apparent max. Win Butler sweated and stomped his feet furiously as he played, walking across the tops of the monitors and climbing virtually into the audience on multiple occasions. The rest of the band ran around stage, switching instruments from song to song and joining into grandiose, joyous harmonies that absorbed even Butler's imposing presence into the chorus of voices -- which were, in turn, fervently joined by the audience.
One of the most remarkable things about Arcade Fire's body of work, aside from the fact that the band managed to continue evolving despite the achievement and acclaim of their debut full-length, is its simultaneous diversity and cohesion from album to album. Last night's set featured a number of songs from the new album, Suburbs, and was lightest on material from the greatly under-appreciated Neon Bible, but put together live the songs were nothing short of illuminating.
If a song like "Neighborhood #3" could be accused of being melodramatic or even overwrought, then its delivery here was purposeful, possessed of an almost vilifying resolve, but no less anthemic for it. "Intervention," with its images of social and institutional suffering, raised the focus from the level of personal struggles to those of the local community and others at large. And in "Modern Man," the fears of the previous characters converged: a suburban man, feeling restless, directionless, and obsolete, sees himself cut off from the world outside. Tying each song together were Butler's honest and emotionally-charged assessments, each approached from different perspectives and different potential selves but shot through with equal conflict and self-doubt.
Of course, each performance was full of such verve that the show transcended the weightiness of their ruminations -- but what truly helped maintain the balance were Regine Chassagne's songs. In particular, the light and exotic rhythms of "Sprawl II," which set the singer dancing and twirling in her glittering dress and leather gloves, offered the hope of possibilities beyond the anxieties of Butler's imperfect characters.
All of which led to the exuberant finale of "Wake Up," virtually a perfect summation of the evening: A room full of people who were mostly strangers brought together to share their personal love for a band, losing themselves and shouting along to the lyrics -- as Arcade Fire are perhaps best appreciated, and as many a great concert should be.
Personal bias: I'm a fan. Have been ever since I heard Funeral, duh.
The crowd: A healthy mix of all ages, almost all of them on their feet (even in the balcony)
Random notebook dump: Dude with the drum is picking on the guitarists again -- but he's having so much fun banging on that thing!
For more photos: See our complete slideshow by Stacy Schwartz.
Ready to Start
No Cars Go
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
We Used to Wait
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Month of May
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Keep the Car Running
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) -- Encore
Suburban War --Encore
Wake Up -- Encore