Concert review: Arcade Fire

After mixed results from the openers, Arcade Fire brought heat to the Target Center.

by Grant Tillery

            I’ve been undeservingly rough on Arcade Fire for years.  I dismissed them as boring, based solely on their bland, banal album “The Suburbs,” which sounded like Arcade Fire’s take on the massively overrated Fleet Foxes.

            Reservations aside, they won me over last night with their grand spectacle at the Target Center.  Arcade Fire has been encouraging concertgoers to dress up or wear costumes to their concerts.  Most people (myself excluded) were wearing quasi-formal wear or outlandish costumes — many, especially the proliferation of men wearing oversized suit coats and baggy jeans, should have gone to a tailor before a night on the town.  Many were ideal for the concert, though, channeling Arcade Fire’s whimsical, theatrical persona.

            People-watching aside, the high point of the night seemed like it would be Montreal DJ Kid Koala’s remix of “Moon River,” the song I walked in to and the last song of his set.  It was somber and slow, offset by Kid Koala’s koala suit and overly self-deprecating banter.

            If the second opener Dan Deacon were the headliner, Kid Koala would have stole the show.  The passé Deacon overcompensated for his lack of musical prowess by trying to create a mini-rave in the center of the arena floor, which felt more like an awkward middle-school dance.  The Latin disco filler music that broke up his set from Arcade Fire’s was more enjoyable. 

            Through Deacon’s performance, attendance was still low.  By the time Arcade Fire came on, the Target Center was packed, and the crowd ranged in age from four (a kid who came with his mother; the duo abruptly left after Arcade Fire’s lead singer Win Butler dropped several F-bombs) to 54 (a gentleman who was consistently handsy with his wife, taking photos of her posterior while she danced).  They were tired of Deacon’s drivel and hungry for the ‘80s sounds of Arcade Fire.

            When Arcade Fire strays from that sound, they stumble.  Sandwiched between a laundry list of their songs from their latest album “Reflektor,” was “The Suburbs,” which felt like misplaced dad rock and veered too far into faux earnestness.   Ditto for “Joan of Arc,” a rocking yet insipid number and one of the weakest cuts off “Reflektor.”  Butler and friends weren’t contorting around on stage per usual, yet many of the audience members were flailing along. 

            But when Arcade Fire sticks to their game plan, they’re dazzling.  “Afterlife” evokes good Blondie, and I caught Mr. Handsy flirtatiously mouthing the lyrics to his wife.  “We Exist” shattered hearts of glass in favor of Michael Jackson-esque synth licks, and simultaneously sent a powerful message about LGBTQ equality with a beat influenced by “Billie Jean.”   “Normal Person” stuck with the retro vibe, but took a sharp turn toward ‘70s glam-rock; it would have been right at home in the canon of T. Rex, and Marc Bolan must be rolling around in his grave from the sheer pleasure of hearing his musical styling live on. 

            “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)” put Arcade Fire’s theatrics front and center.  On the main stage were Butler and the gang; on a small, separate stage in the center of the arena (where the opening acts played their sets), stood lead female vocalist (and Butler’s wife) Regine Chassagne, circled by a person donning a skeleton costume.  The song’s eerie lyrics were enhanced by the grainy, spooky image of Chassagne and the skeleton projected on a screen behind the band.  This wasn’t even the most grandiose feat — Butler came on stage at the beginning of the encore with his head covered in a cube.  On each side was a rotating hologram of Prince and Michele Bachmann. 

            All this led up to the penultimate number, “Here Comes The Nighttime,” arguably Arcade Fire’s best performance of the night.  The crowd was swaying as Papier-mâché was blasted around the room, creating a twinkling gale storm.  Butler testified along to booming reverb, creating a perfect segue to the finale, the timeless “Wake Up.”  The whole audience sang along to the infectious refrain of elongated “ohs,” filling the room with unimpeachable positivity that made everything right in the world for five minutes.