Last Friday night, the Arcade Fire played the fourth of five sold-out shows at NYC’s Judson Memorial Church in support of their upcoming second album, Neon Bible… and you were there, PopWatchers, snug in my pocket, although you were a little sleepy because you woke up at 5 a.m. in order to catch a flight clear across the country so you wouldn’t miss it. You don’t regret that nutcakes decision, though: The show was splendid.
Oh, sure, you weren’t expecting anything less… okay, I’ll stop writing in the second person now. I wasn’t expecting anything less, having seen them in Central Park a couple years back. But one never knows about these things, especially when it comes to mega-hyped bands on their second album whose publicists I begged to get me a ticket after the public on-sale sold out in seven minutes. So many concerns: Would success have gone to their head? Would the new material hold up live? Would the fact that the tickets disappeared so fast mean there would be a bunch of scalper-enabling a–holes in the crowd?
Luckily, the answers to these pressing questions all fell the way I wanted them to. So check out my pics on Flickr, and follow me after the jump for the full Firey experience…
It should be said from the start that Judson is a really weird place to see a show, more like a high school gymnasium or, you know, the inside of a square concrete church than a rock venue. The accompanying acoustics are therefore not ideal, and I would encourage everyone to think very carefully before using it for this sort of thing in the future. Still, it somehow fit this bizarre musical outfit, who always seem like they’re mere moments away from breaking into a performance of Godspell anyway.
Things kicked off with "No Cars Go" and all 10 band members’ mouths wide open, yelling "Hey!", even the French horn player. The audience danced merrily! And then everyone switched instruments, and they launched into "Haiti," complete with singalongs on the "ooohs" — if you’re headed out to an Arcade Fire show, be prepared to sing along on lots of "ooohs" — and female lead AF-er Régine Chassagne doing a sassy little scarf dance while bathed in rich red light. The audience kicked up their heels! And then everyone switched instruments, and they launched into "Black Mirror," the first new song of the night… and the crowd sort of stopped dancing. It was a small shift, but it was there. Clearly, we have not all illegally downloaded the album yet. I couldn’t tell if I was thrilled or disappointed. Shouldn’t we know all the words by now, hipsters? Remember your street cred!
Initiated or not, into the meat of the night we went, and most of Neon Bible unspooled before us: The stomp-along of "Keep the Car Running"; the mandolin hoedown of "Antichrist Television Blues"; and what male lead AF-er Win Butler called "a new composition about some dark s—," "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations." I suppose I should be happy the vocal mix was a little janky in the hall or by this point I may have been rather bummed. If their first album, Funeral, was created in the morbid aftermath of several relatives’ deaths, this one sounds like they traveled to the future, witnessed the apocalypse, and then headed home to warn us all via accordion. Between Win’s choked voice and his frozen facial expression — forever caught somewhere between agony and deer-in-headlights — it’s a little hard to focus on the guy and stay positive; I opted to instead follow his wife Régine, who imped her way around the stage like that chick who played Puck in your art school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She flirted, she lip-synched, she can-canned, she took her boots off and banged the drums, she hollered into megaphones, and generally just brightened up the place while simultaneously being really creepy.
Further highlights: New track "Red House," which sounds like a national anthem waiting for a country. The choir bubble of "Rebellion (Lies)" bursting on that last, furious "You’ve been lied to!" The anticipated version of "Wake Up" in which they now compensate for the lack of David Bowie by wandering out into the middle of the house and playing it acoustic, using only their trusty megaphones to be heard over the carousing crowd. And of course, Whitney’s Pre-Certified Favorite Track (TM) off the new album, "Intervention," whose pipe-organ majesty was unfortunately dimmed somewhat by the boxlike acoustic circumstances but which I loved all the same.
Now, a couple days later, the magic and mystery of the show are fading, but I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Neon Bible that does not belong to my colleague Michael Endelman, because he just came and took his back. I believe it drops March 6. Warm up your wallets, PopWatchers; it’ll be worth it. On the PopWatch Concert Ratings Scale, with 1 being the cell phone of the lady next to you who’s picking out a new ringtone and 10 being Pearl Jam at The Gorge, I give the Arcade Fire an 8.5. Canada + Texas + angst = AWESOMENESS.