Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Live Review: Arcade Fire

May 20, 2007

Chicago Theater

Chicago, Il

Knowing that it may be some time before the 'Fire come to town again, the girlfriend and I decided to take a little post-finals vacation to the Windy City to see them at one of the nation's most beautiful theater's. One speeding ticket and several hours later, we arrived in the cold and rainy city only slightly bleary but excited throughout our bodies. Its no secret that the Arcade Fire are one of my favorites right now. Funeral still ranks as a recent classic, and Neon Bible is holding its own as one of the year's best as well. Then there's the matter of their live shows, which can be quite similar to a religious experience when the band is really giving it their all. Expectations were high, and anticipation was even higher. Your's truly could no longer stand not knowing how Neon Bible would translate from the living room speakers to the theater.

After nearly snoozing through the end of Electrelane's 45 minute set, which unfortunately came off even more like an amateurish Stereolab live than on record, and an even more uneventful intermission in which the house speakers pumped some really lame adult rock/folk artist, it seemed all too appropriate, and necessary, that the Arcade Fire took the stage and opened with "Wake Up".

It should be noted that the Chicago Theater has a great sound system, and marvelous acoustics to boot. At a previous Arcade Fire show, at the 2005 Austin City Limits Festival, I wondered if it were really necessary for 9 people to be on stage. Instruments and backup vocals were occasionally lost in the mix, not to mention the sea of fans singing, nay, screaming along with every word. The Chicago Theater, on the other hand, had no problem accommodating the band, which has now swelled a bit larger to 10 members, and their massive sound. The crowd was much tamer too, for better or worse. For my money, its not an Arcade Fire show if you can actually hear them singing, but then again it was a nice change of pace to actually hear Win's vocals, and I must say that, at times, his voice really has a presence, which is good considering Regine seems to have settled into more of a role in the backseat. Don't let my lame pun fool you though. Regine is rarely idle, her energy certainly keeps the car running, if you know what I mean, especially during "Antichrist Television Blues", where her musical contributions are slim but her stage presence is captivating.

It could be said that since Win has become the face of the band, Regine must be the backbone, but that statement, while not entirely inaccurate, fails to capture the importance of the rest of the band. Regine, Richard Reed Perry, Will Butler, Tim Kingsbury, Sarah Neufield, and four others whose names I have sadly not learned, are more like vertebrae, each providing a special function, or two, that is vital to the survival of the band as we know it. Neufield and her partner in violin crime (sorry for not knowing the woman's name) were especially clear, stressing the tension in Funeral songs like "Wake Up" and "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)", and bringing the Neon Bible to life.

But ultimately this tour comes down to one man only, Win Butler. Like it or not, he is the voice of the band, and with fewer call-and-response songs and less Regine it is up to Win to ultimately make or break each song. Fortunately, he did a fine job. Sure, he sounded a bit winded towards the end of "Antichrist", like he wasn't able to keep chugging along with the songs frantic pace, but he more than made up for it during songs like "Intervention", "Windowsill", and "My Body is a Cage", which was easily a highlight for this reviewer. Those three songs stood out because Win made them. If his voice falters, so do those songs.

There were other highlights too. Every song, if you want me to be dead serious, but nothing more so than "Wake Up", which in roughly 5 1/2 minutes reminded me how much I love this band. Though the crowd as a whole may have been mellower than in shows past, you could still feel the energy growing with each note played. When the song reached its end the crowd gave a composed but generous applause. It was an odd moment for this fan who is used to seeing crazed teens and college students flailing about like they're witness to the second coming of the Beatles, but it was fitting of the moment. A mature, yet euphoric applause, for a mature, yet euphoric band.

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