Sunday, September 30, 2007

Arcade Fire=Greatest Live Act Ever

If you've been reading this blog, then you know that I attended the Arcade Fire show this past Friday in KC. I could give a rundown of the songs they played (including a Magnetic Fields cover) and include pictures of the bands on stage, but I won't do that. (See these guys for that kind of review.) Instead, I'd like to make a case for Arcade Fire being the greatest live act ever.

I heard from so many Columbians how amazingly memorable Arcade Fire's show at Mojo's was a few year ago, but that's not nearly as impressive as what the band did Friday night. Any band can create a lot of energy in a small club. The club is packed. People are on top of each other and the band is mere inches away. The audience can feel the music reverberating through the cramped space. Everyone is dancing by virtue of being smashed up against someone else who is dancing. The real challenge is to translate that energy to a large venue, especially one that's outside.

Normally, when rock bands make the transition to larger venues, something is lost in their live performances. A band like the Police were misplaced on stage when they moved on to stadium concerts. A three-piece band all spread out on a gigantic stage, sometimes larger than the clubs from which they created buzz, swallow the energy from that band like a black hole. Other bands try to fill that space with session players, but there's something impersonal about that. Then, there's situations like the Rolling Stones. They have just become a Vegas show that is completely devoid of any of the rebellion or subversion that made them so important in the first place.

Arcade Fire is able to overcome those shortcomings of playing the big, outdoor venues. First of all, they fill the stage. When you have ten competent and intense musicians playing their hearts out, you have no problem filling any stage. Besides the number of band members (and front man Win Butler's imposing height), Arcade Fire songs are anthems made for stadiums and arenas. The performance was also enhanced by the ingenious stage design of circular video monitors, risers, and silent film-like footage of the band projected onto a curtain behind at the back of the stage.

There are no session players in Arcade Fire. There are married couples, siblings, and long-time friends. The familial themes run throughout their songs and come through when you watch the band effortlessly switch instrumental and vocal duties.The band was tight and in-synch all night long.

While the band does put on a spectacular stage show, they haven't lost any of the fire, so to speak, that other acts seem to be missing once they move to the big stage. I've never seen a show in such a large venue that energized a crowd the way Arcade Fire did at the Starlight. Sure, there were audience members too drunk to demonstrate genuine euphoria or the green concert-goers that were just excited to be there, but the energy at Friday's show was obvious.

This energy was emanating directly from the band. Various members destroyed percussion instruments while falling into the crowd. Win Butler played every song as if his life depended on it. His partner, Regine Chassagne, frequently lost control of her voice that only intensified the urgency of the songs. It's rare for a cynical indie snob like myself to be so moved by a live performance, but Arcade Fire met my expectations for an incredibly energetic show.

I'm not saying this was the greatest show I've ever seen, but it demonstrated Arcade Fire's unique ability to crossover from Pitchfork darlings to mega-concert gods. No matter how good the songwriting, musicianship, or stage presence, the immediacy and artistry of great music is lost in gargantuan music venues like the Starlight. Arcade Fire surmount this barrier between indie bands and mainstream success through the elements that make their band so important.

To those who chose not to see Arcade Fire Friday simply because you didn't want to tarnish the small club experience at Mojo's a few years back, you missed greatness. You missed a performance that proves Arcade Fire's greatness. You missed Arcade Fire.


jason said...

me = so jealous :)

KR said...

Yeah, Jason. You took the words right out of my mouth... I have yet to see Arcade Fire live! I am SO green with envy. I wish I could have gone to such an amazing(ly well-described) show as this one.