Arcade Fire, “The Suburbs” tour

5 10 2010


photo by Nick Wilson


Erik came to visit. We like to go to concerts. I’d only heard one Arcade Fire song (Wake Up), which I liked a lot. Erik is a fan of the opening act, Calexico. We went to the show at Memorial Coliseum in Portland, not really knowing what to expect.

It was stupendous. Both bands clearly felt very strongly about putting on a good show. I’d never heard Calexico at all. I thought they would be sort of Southwesterny-folk-rocky, which they were, but with a surprising vein of eeriness. Two trumpet players enriched their sound. They played a great set and warmed up the crowd nicely.

Arcade Fire had eight people on stage. First it was three guitars, two drummers, two keyboardists, and one violin. Then one of the keyboardists switched to a second violin, and one of the guitarists moved to keyboards. Then Regine Chassagne switched from drums to accordion. Then she took over lead vocals for awhile. Only one band member stayed on one instrument (guitar) the whole time. Will Butler was all over the place, wailing on everything like a lunatic gorilla. Once in awhile the arrangement put everyone in front of a microphone and eight voices sang together. Later in the show, Calexico’s trumpeters came out and joined them on one song. I knew they’d have a lot of instruments, but the kinetic, ever-shifting stage presence took me by surprise.

Behind the crowded stage they had a backdrop showing a worm’s eye view of freeway ramps, and in front of that was a screen on a thick pole, framed in lights, like an advertising billboard. The scenery perfectly captured the suburban non-place. Images played on the screen, and were rear-projected on the backdrop, and sometimes front-projected across the whole stage. Sometimes abstract light shows, sometimes more figurative, like the creepy reverse-silhouette of a little girl that walked in and out of the screen and onto the backdrop. Sometimes the screens showed camera footage of the band. Weirdly, the shots of lead singer Win Butler seemed to have a more pronounced delay than the shots of anyone else. Like he’s living in his own little time-slip, probably on account of being a friggin giant.

So all the visuals were brilliant, and brilliantly accented the changes in the music, which could have easily stood on its own. It should have gotten old, the way almost every song crashed up in tempo and/or volume halfway through, but it never did. I was thrilled, immersed, submerged the whole time. “Wake Up” was the final encore, but I never sat there waiting for them to play the one song I knew. By the end I wouldn’t have minded if they decided to skip it.

But they didn’t, and the finale was a spectacular piece of intra-audience particiformance. They’d done one encore, the lights were off, but we could see them bringing out the snare drums and it must have tipped people off because the instant they started Wake Up, the whole stadium was singing along. That non-verbal vocal came from everywhere. Then, the second time it came around, the feed for the screens was tracking across the audience, every face upraised and singing along. I suppose it’s nothing new, turning the cameras on the audience during a concert, but Arcade Fire had spent the whole show being oversized and unconstrained, and in that last song it felt like the whole audience was a member of the band.




One response

5 10 2010

I just learned a new word…”particiformance”!

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