Concert Review: Arcade Fire in NYC

Arcade_l 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…

addCredit(“Arcade Fire: Lucy Hamblin/Retna”)

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.


Comments (12 total) Add your comment
  • step

    Neon Bible is definitely a great cd. It’s been on repeat on my iPod for the last few weeks now. I walk around to Intervention like I’m walking down the aisle in a church.

  • PVIce

    Neon Bible is pretty good, but it’s nothing compared to the new Ted Leo and Modest Mouse discs dropping next month. Arcade Fire is a nice, lite warm-up for the real rock n’ roll about to crack your skullz, suckaz.

  • Kevin

    My girlfriend is probably the biggest Arcade Fire fan I know. She poked at me for months about this band and I finally caved in to a listen. I have to admit, they’re pretty freakin sweet! I’ve had Neon Bible for almost a month now. No complaints whatsoever! It’s fun, innovative, and maintains that swollen drive prevalent behind most AF tracks. I think the revamped version of “No Cars Go” is my favorite, but there is a pocketful of gems inside this wonderful album.
    P.S. It’s great to see PopWatch comment about GOOD MUSIC for a change.

  • Robert

    After listening to the NPR broadcast of their final show on Saturday, and blasting Neon Bible everywhere I go, I have to say that their set on SNL this weekend could end up being the greatest musical act ever, should they play Intervention and No Cars Go to the best of their capabilities. I think that my sheer enthusiasm may end up being detrimental to my neighbors’ hearing.

  • Liza

    Does anyone know where I can see the SNL clip? I tried YouTube and NBC’s website, It’s not there. I can’t believe I missed it.

  • Brandon

    great review, whitney. can’t wait to see them.

  • Tom

    Liz — the SNL appearance is this coming Saturday. This past SNL was a repeat.

  • mrhaydel

    Just in case you weren’t able to be there, NPR; All Songs Considered;s Bob Boilen was there, and recorded it for your listening pleasure.
    Supposedly, there’s supposed to be a downloadable version of it today; for now, you can stream it.

  • Liza

    Thanks Tom. That’s what happens when you read something quickly cause your boss is breathing down your neck, I thought it said they were on last week.

  • I heart MCR

    Arcade Fire is reallly coool! But did you know that My Chemical Romance is having a second tour??
    Here, check this out!

  • Neo

    Just bought my Arcade Fire concert tixs for the May event in NYC…all 3 shows sold out within 10 minutes. I can’t believe I got in!
    Now, I’m just waiting for the Rapture, Fisherspooner or the Knife to hit the east coast (LCD Soundsystem coming up in May, also)…then 2007 should by far surpass 2006 events (LadyTron, Depeche Mode, Iggy Pop, Bloc Party, TV on the Radio, Placebo).

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