The Great Chicago (Arcade) Fire

Chicago, IL, USA; May 18, 2007

by Sean McCarthy

In three scant years, The Arcade Fire has gone from playing in bars to headlining music festivals and selling out venues like The Chicago Theatre in a matter of minutes. They are the band of the moment, drawing celebrity sightings at their shows (murmurs of Tim Robbins and Vince Vaughn sightings were heard from some of the crowdgoers for the Friday show). 


Opening for The Arcade Fire was St. Vincent, led by singer/songwriter Annie Clark. Appearing solo onstage for a few songs, Clark performed with a blues-heavy swagger. Sadly, as her supporting band came out, St. Vincent’s sound became more one-dimensional and a lot less interesting. A little more focus on the blues and a little less focus on indie and St. Vincent could be lethal.

At about 8:45 p.m., the lights dimmed and a grainy video of an amped-up fire and brimstone preacher appeared on the projection screens on the stage, bringing the 3,000-plus attendees to their feet. The Arcade Fire walked down the center aisle and took the stage to perform “Neon Bible.” It was one of those goosebump-inducing moments that can make a few thousand geeky followers to scream “Uh Deux Trois Dix Miroir Noir!”


Lead singer/guitarist Win Butler, looking like a blacksmith from the '30s, didn’t do much moving around for most of the show, saving the stage athletics for the rest of the ten-piece band, who routinely almost ran over each other switching different instruments throughout the set. In the mournful, oppressive, but oddly bouncy “Intervention,” Richard Reed Parry was beating a drum near the front of the stage in perfect synchronicity with drummer Jeremy Gara as Butler led the audience in one of the most depressing sing-a-long songs you’ll hear this year: “Working for the church while your family dies / Your little baby sister’s gonna lose her mind.”

Butler’s gaze rarely left the audience, despite the rowdy Parry freely tossing cymbals around the stage. Regine Chassagne, when not playing the accordion and drums, danced around the stage waving her hands and looking at the audience, seemingly having as good of a time as the audience was, grinning widely throughout most of the show.

Despite a few sound glitches, the only thing that slightly marred a near-flawless evening was the slight predictability of the set. “Keep the Car Running,” the fantastic second song from Neon Bible, was played directly after the opening title track. The two songs bookend each other so perfectly on the album, it’s almost a given that these songs should be played back-to-back live. The rousing anthem “Rebellion (lies)” is a custom-made set closer or encore song, as is the haunting “In the Backseat.” Sure enough, “Rebellion (lies)” closed the set and “In The Backseat” was played in the second encore.

Does that take away the thrill of seeing a full theatre jump up and down in a pogo-like frenzy during the stomping opening chords of “Rebellion”? Does that sap the power of Chassagne’s vocals in “In The Backseat”? Hell no!

The Arcade Fire has a lot at its disposal right now. Critics love them. Their shows sell out and as a result, they’re able to afford to bring pipe organs and the equivalent of a mini-orchestra to their shows. Still, the band’s enthusiasm and earnestness helped capture the immediacy that made their club gigs so legendary. Now that’s religion.

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