Arcade Fire at Madison Square Garden
New York, NY YouTube Simulcast
Watching the Arcade Fire in concert reminds me of watching the end of a kid's birthday party after the food has been eaten, presents have been opened and the sugar from the goody bags and cake is rushing like a fighter plane through their veins and giving them a rush that's downright euphoric. The kids are possessed, scurrying, defying gravity, killing bad guys, re-enacting weddings and in some cases squealing at levels that break the sound barrier. It's an enthralling experience to say the least that takes you back to a more innocent times. If one can keep their min straight amidst this chaos, it clears the deck and makes you laugh off inane arguments you had with friends and family from the past. The Arcade Fire are an act who take their music seriously. No subject is too risqué for them; religion, death or suburbia. On their latest The Suburbs they tackle the inconsistencies of suburban living in a convoluted and fraught record. While I'm not sure if anyone could really tackle the intricacies of the themes housed within The Suburbs what I can say without hesitation is that with each album and tour, the Arcade Fire is continuing its sprint towards greatness.
Their recent broadcast from Madison Square Garden was directed and overseen by film director Terry Gilliam. The final product was a superb experience for the home viewer with wide shots capturing the band and the crowd in their element. The size of the arena didn't seem to matter here as the real fireworks were on the concert stage. On "No Cars Go", the band congealed their individual talents into one glorified and magnified sound that was downright contagious. It's quite a sight to see drums, violins, according, guitars and fists flying in the air all amidst some incredibly enlivening, reaffirming and soul baring rock. "The Suburbs" was melancholy as was "Crown of Love" with a highly effective segue between the two as Butler serenaded the Garden crowd from behind a piano. Delivered with all of the intensity and agility of the best prime Springsteen/U2 songs at their peak, it was clearly the highlight with an accentuating xylophone tinting the musical narrative. "We Used To Wait" won over the crowd and fueled the exuberant and chanting in "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)". The band, despite being on a break for a while, sound terribly tight and well rounded for what is one of the first dates of their world tour.
Régine Chassagne tackled lead vocals on "Haiti" and were especially poignant as the rest of the band proved to be animated and lively. "Rebellion (Lies)" found Win Butler crowd surfing. This isn't about any one person, instrument or voice but a combined effort where the sheer intensity and power of the band brings their greatness to light. "Month of May" was unrelenting as was their enthusiasm which they bring to the stage. The punk rock guitars surged this song to life. What was a very good album cut became larger-than-life in concert equaling "Keep the Car Running" which followed shortly thereafter. I was afraid the vastness of the Garden would swallow them whole like Moby Dick, but no such thing happened. They solidified their ability as a live band proving size doesn't matter when your heart is in the right place.
The music may be too orchestral, too sweeping and too emotive for some, but the Arcade Fire haven't worn out their welcome because one look at them on the concert stage and it's evident this isn't an act or a show but real bristling emotions pouring over on the concert stage. The musical template is wide, grand and epic in a way if the E Street Band and U2 had formed some sort of super group on the side when their respective acts were taking a break. The humanity of the band bristled forward as the band screwed up one song only to start it over. A embarrassing mistake? No, just a moment that endeared me more to them. The finale of "Wake Up", an arena arm-waving-anthem if there ever was one, lived up to its promise uniting the intelligencia and geeks of the indie rock n' roll movement in one grand and epically sweeping moment. For a band that can fly down and sweep you away in mere seconds, I'd like to see them push themselves and perform longer shows. The 2007 show I caught at the Chicago Theater had all the elements in place for it to be downright epic yet I couldn't help but feel they could have taken the crowd to that next level and didn't. The YouTube broadcast was a superb yet again, with three albums under their belt one can only hope they push closer to the 2-hour mark in the not too distant future.
To date the band has yet to be corrupted by fame, temptation of big money and mediocrity and instead are chasing after the muse and following her wherever she goes. I haven't given The Suburbs a verdict to date simply because I don't think it's a record that can be reviewed properly until months after its release. It's a sprawling affair full of good notions, clever lyrics and boisterous music that makes you stand up and listen and sometimes that's enough. It's easy to hop on a bandwagon and pretend you've loved this band since day one. That's not the point. It doesn't matter who was first in line, what matters is the here and now. It's imperative you take the band and their albums seriously. Have you listened to "Intervention" 86-times finding consolation? Or uncovering some tracks years later that sound like long-lost friends? It's impossible to be whisked away to a simpler time when innocence was still intact, however, as the band chips away at that virtuousness and veers you down the highway of adulthood, you can't help but feel a tad melancholy, but more importantly, you feel empowered. This is a band who writes songs people see themselves, feel themselves and lose themselves in these songs. Like R.E.M. or U2 in the late 1980's, the Arcade Fire is taking those steps from cult band to everyone's band. Their music is filled with metaphorical insight into life's battles and more so than providing you with the weapons to fight them, the Arcade Fire instill a clear focus allowing you to reconcile your past thus allowing true forward movement. They may be the indie world's darlings, but there's good reason for it.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
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Arcade Fire at Madison Square Garden