Arcade Fire Adapts Well to Arena

IMG_4553Playing in the round isn’t always the best way to take in an arena concert. By definition, a band’s presentation is fractured in different directions, lacking a central, unified focus. Every time a band member is facing you means that another is facing the other way. If it’s a spinning stage, it can all be a little dizzying.

Arcade Fire seemed to solve all of that with the arena tour that stopped at the Capitol One Center in Washington Saturday (a place that was so recently the Verizon Center, it still said so on the central ice scoreboard).

For its purposes, being in the round means closer to its audience and being in the center of its party, something the Canadian band has always tried to do.

To start, it played up the boxing rink aspects of the stage set up with sports-like introductions and warm up suits as well as actual ropes that were shed after a few songs.

Wireless microphones allowed singer Win Butler and Régine Cassagne to wander the stage at will. Different platforms on the stage, from monitors to piano tops allowed them to stand out further on different levels. And yes, a central platform did spin around at times, moving mostly the drum set of Jeremy Gara as well as the standup piano.

Everybody was visible, in other words, at least from some vantage points, if not in person at least in the cleverly programmed rectangular video screens above them.

Arcade Fire is in the midst of a tour to promote their fifth album Everything Now, one that makes fun of rampant consumerism while clearly being a part of it. This was heralded by infomercial like video ads before their set for oddball items and lots of symbols for international currency marching around the arena’s own video screens.

This can be a minefield, to be delicately traversed, as past recording artists from the Mothers of Invention (“We’re Only In It for the Money”) to X-Ray Spex (“Germfree Adolescents”) to U2 (“Pop”), have shown. Tough to poke consumerism and marketing when you’re selling themed fidget spinners in the lobby, on a tour where concert presale were made available for Citibank credit card holders.

Despite wearing their aggressively branded concert-wear, the band generally managed this well by powerfully delivering the goods.

While the new album itself is hit and miss, it has a few standouts that hold well in concert from the book-ending title song to the country-twangish “We Don’t Deserve Love” (which was sung by Butler among the crowd to start the encore) to things like “Infinite Content” and “Creature Comfort” which addresses body shaming, suicide and fame — both came near the end of the show, which was a continually dazzling light box.

But the heart of the show were the older tunes that perhaps because they were made before the band’s turn to faux disco act, still had real heart and soul and melody. It was almost a surprise that the pairs of songs that shared titles of “Neighborhood” and “The Suburbs” would be so indelible and enduring? Or that “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” performed between two fully activated mirror balls that made everyone present shine in shards, would be the show’s zenith?

It was clear that the triumphal numbers were not only influential on any number of later, lesser bands that relied on singalong choruses and hats, but they were also soaring songs that seemed to become fully realized in the arena setting.

Butler gave a shout out to those who had seen them in the early days at local venues like the Black Cat and 930 Club, but it seemed clear that the full expression of their vision could come when they could suggest, in a video message, that patrons turn on their phone lights and suddenly the place was the middle of the Milky Way.

But they managed to show the lower-fi ambitions, too, by not only closing with the triumphant “Wake Up,” but leading the opening band, no less than the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, snaking through the crowd to play its everlasting refrain. They may still be doing it.



The setlist for Arcade Fire Saturday was:

  • “Everything Now”
  • “Signs of Life”
  • “Rebellion (Lies)”
  • “Here Comes the Night Time”
  • “Haiti”
  • “No Cars Go”
  • “Electric Blue”
  • “Put Your Money on Me”
  • “Neon Bible”
  • “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”
  • “The Suburbs”
  • “The Suburbs (Continued)”
  • “Ready to Start”
  • “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
  • “Reflektor”
  • “Afterlife”
  • “Infinite Content”
  • “Creature Comfort”
  • “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”
  • “We Don’t Deserve Love”
  • Everything Now (Continued)”
  • “Wake Up”


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