Arcade Fire @ Austin360 Amphitheater 04/10/14
Thursday night had a lot to live up to: big stage, bigger venue, and a band who seem to be bigger by the minute. What else was big? Ticket prices. With Standing GA/Floor tickets going for 70 dollars and seats for 50, I was hesitant to fork over the big dollars, but having seen this band twice before, both in a festival setting and on their own, I knew the incredible live show they were capable of. I talk, of course, of Arcade Fire, indie rock cornerstone band that has bled into the mainstream. While not a big fan of Reflektor, I lowered my expectations in anticipation of the heavy prevalence of these new tracks, but I did not expect the level of gimmicks that was in store for the night.
After a later than anticipated arrival due to traffic and stressful navigation through the Circuit of the Americas and forking over some more big dollars for parking about a mile away from the entrance, I missed out on Lost Bayou Ramblers. The other opener, Kid Koala performed his DJ set up in the stands, at a small stage near the back of the venue and was inaudible from the Floor. While I couldn’t hear the man in the Koala suit, I took notice of the level of participation to the band’s “Formal Dress/Costume” mandate. Some were decked to the nines be it tuxes or costumes (Wizards, A Wizard of Oz crew, and various “Reflektor” interpretations), but others seemed to disregard this entirely.
Whatever their dress, the crowd was pretty amped up, and when the lights dimmed, they were met not with the band, but a figure in a suit with a box with screens on all the sides projecting an image of Rick Perry talking on all sides. This figure spoke in a fake Texas accent and invited his friend Barack Obama to the stage for an awkward moment before an introduction to the “real” band. Figures with the infamous bobble heads that Arcade Fire have crafted to resemble themselves took the stage but were obviously not the band. We were led to a rousing chorus of “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” at the end of which the real band took the stage to cheers. They started with a new track, “Normal Person,” and despite the weird dancing figures on the stage, the crowd seemed pretty into it—understandably, this song is one of the more similar to past efforts ala Suburbs. The band then proceeded with “Rebellion (Lies),” continuing the upward energy, giving those of us in the crowd a taste of their potential.
After this moment, we were in for a night of ups and downs: this energy, and the energy in the crowd for the rest of the night on was reflective of the songs that they played. As expected, old songs got excited reactions, while the newer songs got initial cheers and hollers from the crowd, but the songs from Reflektor, for the most part, simply couldn’t hold the intensity that their other material is infamous for. What also didn’t help this feeling was the continuation of antics that didn’t necessarily enhance the listening experience, but detracted from the music itself. The band chose to employ a secondary stage behind the floor (not even visible by some of the seats) in which they placed acts during new songs. Dancers in skeleton suits, The “Reflektor man,” and Regine Chassange all occupied this at some point, which made the crowd to turn their backs on the stage and gawk and pull their phones out. All the sudden it wasn’t about the music, but the sideshow, just like the fake heads at the beginning of the show. And they didn’t stop here: the band played not one, but two covers (“Heart of Glass” and “Controversy”), to my utter confusion. People paid a large amount of money to see and hear the music that your band especially has created and written—not someone else’s, especially when you have four full length albums and more of a catalog to draw from.
In the end, while I still enjoyed most of the night, I was a little heartbroken: the band that used to put on an intensely passionate show in which each member of the large ensemble thrust themselves wholeheartedly into their performance seemed to be replaced or diminished by endless gimmicks. While I get that the growth of this indie darlings into the mainstream music was inevitable and quick, the problems I had with the show was the detachment of the band to the actual music itself. I thought I understood the messages they were putting out via their first three albums, but all of that seems to be somewhat nullified by their actions at this live show and the very things they wrote about even on Reflektor. Perhaps the fame has gone to their heads. If you’re out there Arcade Fire, please come back. We miss you.
Quick note from bgray: Nothing they do going forward will ever touch the night at The Backyard. They were at their best that night, big but not too big. No gimmicks, just great performers performing. They need to pull it back a little and refocus. Watch a U2 concert to see how to walk that fine line between cheese and ham.