By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
As you dig deeper into the band’s sound, other things start to stick out alongside the youthful energy. Win and Régine have a vocal poise beyond their years. Win’s voice is familiar, reminiscent of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst (only less petulant) or the Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano (only less neurotic). It’s a choked-up sound that’s hard to distinguish. Is it confessional or an ornate emotional mask? Régine’s voice, by contrast, sounds more exotic, and reminds me of Björk, which you can chalk up to her exotic Québecois-Haitian upbringing and her background in jazz cabaret and Medieval song. She attempts things, melodically and lyrically, that will strike pop-trained listeners as unnatural, intriguing and, perhaps, off-key. In "Haiti" — her star turn — she announces that "Mes cousins jamais nes hantent les nuits des Duvalier," which roughly translates to, "My cousins never haunt the nights of Duvalier."
This is not your average indie rock.
The band’s most recent stand in New York best displayed what makes the Arcade Fire so special. The shows were at the Bowery Ballroom, a room comparable to L.A.’s El Rey Theater. When the band members took the stage their demeanor was unprofessional, their dress the opposite. They wore scrappy, faux-institutional clothes. It’s been labeled Russian military garb — black ties, vintage white shirts — but it’s mussed up with human touches like the skeletal rib cage silk-screened on the back of Win’s suit jacket. They look much younger than their years, and seem to chaff at their semiformal dress, like kids attending a wedding, bar mitzvah, or funeral against their will. (Utility man Richard Reed Parry, with his curly red hair and thick black glasses, bears a striking resemblance to the protagonist of Napoleon Dynamite.)
"This is the first time we’ve been to New York," announced Win, coyly. It was a line he repeated at what were, respectively, the band’s fifth, sixth and seventh gigs in New York, and it was a lie about which the crowds for each performance were certainly aware. The last three of those shows were all sellouts, and for weeks those slow on the uptake and/or desperate to partake in the hype had been floating offers for tickets on Craigslist that went from unreasonable ($130 a pair) to ludicrous ("I am forced to sell a date with my g/f to see Arcade Fire at Bowery . . . she has said that she likes tall guys etc. etc. but I personally think that she’d be a cute half of a lesbian couple").
By the time the Arcade Fire’s set kicked off, lesbian couples were few and far between, but among the indie faithful were David Bowie and David Byrne, the latter of whom stuck around just long enough to see the band launch into a faithful cover of the Talking Heads’ "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)."
I can only imagine that the Arcade Fire launched into this rendition with some trepidation. For most of their peers, playing a Talking Heads song — with Byrne in the audience, no less — would have been tantamount to an admission of stylistic theft. The key to the success of Interpol and Franz Ferdinand, for example, is that no one’s quite been able to place the ’80s new-wave songs they’re ripping off. The Arcade Fire, however, were taking on their idol head-on. Thankfully, they had been dropping this particular Talking Heads cover into their set lists with some regularity, and this time they nailed it. "This Must Be the Place," a song about nostalgia of home and the bittersweet feel of leaving, sounded less like a cover than a natural extension of Funeral, an album punctuated by a suite of four songs titled "Neighborhood."
And about halfway through the cover, something odd happened. Audience members scanning the crowd for a reaction shot from Byrne discovered that the now white-haired singer had left the building midsong. Perhaps he was beset by drunks, perhaps by memories of his own past. I can only imagine that Byrne was thinking about the arias he’s recorded of late for the adult contemporary label Nonesuch, and he dreamed a little nightmare that goes like this:
As the years have piled up, Byrne’s grown even more entrenched in the art-song tradition, thinking that’s what made him famous. But here was the younger generation, in the guise of the Arcade Fire, reminding him that what so many people valued about the Talking Heads wasn’t Byrne’s intellectual games, but the barely restrained sweetness and heart lurking inside the songs. What people loved was how Byrne’s bandmates used a groove to create cracks in his intellectual pretensions. He realizes it wasn’t his mind they wanted, it was all the bliss running wild underneath.
In short, the Arcade Fire made David Byrne feel young again, and it scared him. I bet they’ll make you feel the same way. And it won’t.
The Arcade Fire play at Spaceland Tuesday, December 7, and at the Troubadour Saturday, January 15.