Monday, May 21, 2007

Arcade Fire w/ St. Vincent @ Chicago Theater

It seems that every time I read anything about Neon Bible, The Arcade Fire’s new release, critics are compelled to write that the new songs “look outward” while the first album “looked inward”. This is mainly a focus on their lyrics, and may well be true, but I’m the type of listener who tends to notice lyrics years after owning an album. In actuality, the music on the new songs is far more intimate. There is a sense of closeness to each song, and the nuances are extremely important. Funeral had many bombastic tracks, but when I First Blushed Neon Bible, it took me until the final song to feel like the band was hitting its potential in terms of musical drama. I mention all of this because it had a major impact in what transpired at Friday’s show. Every one of those older songs played better than any of the new ones.

It is important to note that my seats were on the floor, directly on the middle aisle, but all the way back in the 29th row. They were actually a prime location at the outset as the entire band entered by walking down that very aisle. Win Butler was in the lead, followed by Richard Parry and then the rest of the band. After taking the stage, they quickly fired off four songs from the new album (Black Mirror, Keep the Car Running, AC TV Blues, No Cars Go). Those are the exact four songs from the release that I have found somewhat uncompelling. At least to me, all of the songs felt like warm-ups. The crowd was appreciative enough, but I doubt that they were anyone’s favorites either. So the show had a slow-build quality to it. After that, they played an excellent version of Haiti, with Régine Chassagne busting out her best Molly Ringwald-esque dance moves. Laika followed that and the show immediately amped up to a higher level. Will Butler and Richard Parry were literally pummeling one another with various instruments, megaphones, and mic stands. When not involved in physical battles, Butler smashed crash cymbals together or onto the stage itself. You could call it musically violent.

From there it was back to newer songs. Neon Bible was followed by My Body is a Cage – two songs I was eagerly anticipating. Unfortunately, they are the two quietest Arcade Fire songs, and the two women in front of us decided to take that time to chat about lord knows what. It was impossible not to be distracted by them. They were emblematic of much of the audience that night who seemed solely interested in the songs from Funeral. Unfortunately for all those people, the band had played nine Neon Bible tunes before getting to a third older song.

I did lead off by saying that the older songs played better live. Part of that may be that they have been playing the songs for a lot longer, but the bigger issue is that they’re louder songs with more amped up intensity. They closed their main set with Power Out leading right into Rebellion (Lies), bringing the entire audience to a frenzy. Well, as frenzied as things can get at the Historic Chicago Theater (which is a gorgeous venue, by the way). They came out for the first encore with Ocean of Noise followed by Tunnels, on which their main French Horn player totally ran out of gas. He was frantically rubbing his lips during rests, hoping to get some muscle tone back into them. I played the horn for ten years, and I can recall that distressed feeling. Maybe that’s not something most people would have noticed or even cared about, but hey, that’s the kind of detail you get with this blog… In any event, it was a great song to end a show on. But, after going backstage, they returned once more. A lot of people left before the last encore which is utterly baffling to me. Why on earth would you ever leave a show before the house lights came on? I’ve been to two shows where bands came back and played after the lights came on. Why would you jet when it’s still dark? It's not like there's a big parking lot to escape as nearly everyone took public transportation.

The second encore consisted only of Backseat, which had always been the song on Funeral I would listen to simply because it was at the end of the album. I never found it that engaging or important. But this rendition was spectacular. Chassagne put her heart and soul into those lead vocals, and the rest of the band perfectly supported her. It wound down with the whole band singing quiet a cappella to a captivated audience. I was hoping for Wake Up at some point, but it’ll have to wait until next time. Speaking of next time, I’m going again on Sunday, but this time I’ll be in the fourth row. My big hope is that the new songs play much better sitting that close.

A few other tidbits… There were more good-looking women at this show than at any other I can recall. It was really impressive. At one point Win talked about being at the Bulls game Thursday and the fact that people were not allowed to stand near the end of the game to urge on the home team. His conclusion: “There is no God.”

The opening act was St. Vincent, which began with Annie Clark onstage by herself, doing a sort of Andrew Bird thing. She played guitar with some backing loops and a bass drum. Her band joined her after three songs. I said to my friend, “She looks cute from here.” His response: “That must mean she’s thin.” On the whole, she’s clearly very talented, but the songs are a bit erratic. She often resembled Björk which is of course high praise, but I think eventually, her songs will be a bit more streamlined, making them more powerful. Either way, she showed great poise and talent up there in front of a large hall whose audience had likely never heard of her before.

Set list as best I can remember:
Black Mirror
Keep the Car Running
(Antichrist Televlision Blues)
No Cars Go
Haiti
Laika
Intervention
Neon Bible
Body is a Cage
Windowsill
Well and the Lighthouse
Power Out
Rebellion(Lies)
Ocean of Noise
Tunnels
Backseat

3 comments:

Kyle said...

Phenomenal show! I was anticipating this night for over 2 years. I definitely preferred the energy and "loudness" the older songs (I am partial to Funeral) had, but the newer songs were very tight as well. Windowsill, Well and the Lighthouse, and Ocean of Noise were my highlights from Neon Bible. I could have handled the EP version of No Cars Go instead of the Neon Bible version, but I am not going to complain about anything. I am curious why Bad Vibrations / Black Wave is the lone Neon Bible songs not performed?

Kyle said...

The littles extras people that people who wasted their money on the deluxe version of Neon Bible were on full display at the show. The band artwork (which loosely translates to flip books apparently) was projected on the back screen during Ocean of Noise. And the hologram baseball card-esque thing on the cover of Neon Bible (which exited me in 1990, but not anymore) was often projected on the tinier screens.

John said...

You're a dick Kyle. Holograms rule!