It doesn't seem all that long ago when we watched Arcade Fire play in front of a wildly exuberant crowd at Irving Plaza in New York City during the Funeral tour, with frontman Win Butler playfully apologizing for not having enough songs in the repertoire to play a longer show. But that was nearly five years ago, and it's certainly not a problem anymore.
With strong, often times triumphant, material from three full-length albums and one EP, the Montreal band played an 18-song, one-hour-and-forty-minute show in front of an ecstatic, sold-out audience at the Shrine Auditorium last night, showing that these rock 'n' roll veterans not only have enough material, they're still playing for keeps.
In fact, as we watched Arcade Fire play an inspired first gig of a two-night stand at the Shrine, an old quote from David Briggs, Neil Young's late, great producer, popped into our heads.
“Rock 'n' roll is fire, man, FIRE,” Briggs told journalist Jimmy McDonough. “It's the attitude. It's thumbing your nose at the world.”
Now touring to support the recently released The Suburbs, Arcade Fire fulfilled that spot-on definition, even when guitars didn't work or the lead singer forgot some lyrics.
Backed by his superb cohorts Régine Chassagne, Richard Reed Parry, William Butler, Tim Kingsbury, Sarah Neufeld, and Jeremy Gara, Win Butler led the band through a set, and two-song encore, that showcased material mostly from the Funeral and The Suburbs albums, with a handful from Neon Bible.
Highlights were a hard rocking, even strident “Haiti” sung by Régine Chassagne and a defiant “Rebellion (Lies)” — arguably the best song of the night… although this was where Win forgot a few lyrics. But the flub was oddly essential, inspiring the band and the crowd to pick him up.
“Rebellion (Lies)” was a memorable moment… of band and crowd connecting and rocking despite, perhaps because of, a human malfunction — a connection Win had worked on very early in the show.
Just before Arcade Fire kicked off the show, the singer asked the audience, all of whom had comfortable theater seats, to stand and remain standing to the end. The crowd obeyed, participating, not just observing, in the hard-driving performance unfolding before them.
Then after the third song, “Neighborhood #2 (Laika),” Win compared L.A. crowds to a “hot” girl where “sometimes it's hard to tell if you like us or not.” He put the cards on the table, and from that point on, the audience stayed with the band through thick and thin — Win had problems with his guitar set up throughout the night.
In fact, the technical side of things was off for the entire band.
Whether it was the acoustics of the 84-year-old Shrine or whoever was at the controls, Win's vocals and the string section could have been punched up and the sound, at times, came across as murky.
During “Intervention,” for example, Richard Reed Parry's blistering guitar work — a crucial component of the song that gives it a certain tenseness — seemed inexplicably turned down.
It wasn't a good night for the tech crew, who were constantly fixing things on stage — but the band kept at it, never let up, and rocked through it… a kind of old-fashioned the-show-must-go-on professionalism, touched with a thumbing of the nose to all the shit happening around them.
Arcade Fire ended the night with “Wake Up,” a song that turned the Shrine into a kind of rock 'n' roll tent revival, where the music, not a preacher, healed.
In New York City several years ago, we watched an audience become so deliriously happy during “Wake Up” that it actually made us shed a tear or two. The same reaction went down in 2010 — people singing, hands flailing, and a lump in our throat.
When we heard Win sing the words “Hope that something pure can last” from the song “We Used to Wait,” we could only think that his audience is hoping the same thing for Arcade Fire.
(Outtro: For a while, we always thought “Wake Up” ended with the lyrics “Better look out for love!” and not “Better look out below!” We could get into why our ending is better considering the kind of lyrics that come before it, but we'll simply, and humbly, suggest that Arcade Fire consider using “love” at no charge from us. Heck, Dylan changes lyrics all the time, no?)
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.