Arcade Fire at Target Center, 3/8/14
Photo by Tony Nelson
Target Center, Minneapolis
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Win Butler is either one of the best rock stars in the world, or one of the worst. He can't dance and sweats a lot. He's overly tall and still feels the need to stand on stage monitors to make himself look even more gigantic. Essentially, he's "My Body is a Cage" personified. His stage banter is overly self-congratulatory and often stilted ("This is song is perfect for the Target Center. It's called 'The Suburbs'"). His singing has improved, but is still a mixed bag. But you can tell he cares. A lot. He is the spirited leader of a creative band that plays passionately, and compensates handily for anything an observer doesn't get when looking directly at him.
For the packed Target Center -- loaded with about 10,000 revelers in tuxes, flapper gowns, and banana suits -- putting a critical monocle up to Butler was pointless with such a barrage of activity everywhere.
Back in 2011, there was a lot of merriment when Arcade Fire's The Suburbs won Album of the Year at the Grammys. Kanye West even tweeted about it. Now the Montreal rock band -- still somehow signed to North Carolina indie label Merge Records -- has scored a related sort of win for those still bothering to keep score: They're playing freaking
stadiums arenas now.
Co-produced by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, last year's Reflektor is Arcade Fire's stab at a dance record, and it's pretty resolute. Their current tour presents that material -- and some of the tried-and-true songs dating back to their debut, Funeral -- with a pageantry budget closer to on par with the Lady Gagas, Bruce Springsteens, and U2s.
The show's mirror-dappled main stage was constantly crowded with gear, microphone stands, cords, and an abundance of people. And congas! Simultaneously, an auxiliary stage on the other end of the arena hosted dancers, and spot performances. The band brought Mirror Man and the Bobbleheads, and turned Target Center into a dance party. The show was epic in scope, and occasionally so in execution.
Photos by Tony Nelson
Someone who deserved to stand out a lot more was Butler's wife, Régine Chassagne. Whenever she got to sing, it was as if the lights and glitter sparkled brighter. Their vocal interplay early on, especially on "Reflektor," proved to be the catalyst for the set's highlights. It wasn't until a Talking Heads-y "Haiti" near the end of the set that she was truly allowed to lead the band, and even then, Butler kept standing in front of her.
Big-strumming rockers like "Joan of Arc," "Rococo" (with a riff on Lady Gaga's "Do What U Want" inserted) and "The Suburbs" were best suited for Butler's brute force on the guitar, and he seemed most comfortable with an instrument in his hand. The distilled moment that looked and felt most like a big-ticket event was the Neon Bible standout "No Cars Go." All that was missing was Chris Martin frolicking onstage. With Chassagne on accordion on one side and his workhorse multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Perry on the other, Butler called "Let's go!" triumphantly out to the crowd. And they did!
Photo by Tony Nelson
But his presence faltered when he tried to lead the audience by example. Nowhere was this more apparent than "Afterlife," a head-nodding disco jam off the new record. With mirror ball lights kissing the stage and the crowd, he awkwardly prowled the stage and wasted an opportunity to take the willing fans higher.
Fortunately, Chassagne picked up the slack. After their "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)" duet -- each on an opposite stage -- she made as strong a case as anyone had the entire evening to be front and center. "Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock," she sang in the opening bars of synth-strewn monster "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" and finally she got to do the work her way. Like a sparkling ice dancer moving in tight circles, hands in fingerless gloves, she moved rhythmically to her anthem. Eventually, she grabbed a pair of streamer-filled pom poms and waved them joyfully.
Photo by Tony Nelson
For the encore, the band muscled through a tight cover of Prince's "Controversy" (details and audio), and then "Here Comes the Night Time" and "Wake Up" wrapped with Butler climbing on the monitor again. An argument could be made for Arcade Fire changing what it means to be stadium-aspiring stars. "It's the band, stupid," or whatever. When there's one oft-annoying presence constantly blocking another more-natural one in the the process, it seems that Arcade Fire can't fully reach their potential until they sort it out among themselves.
Personal Bias: Sue me. I've been listening to this band for almost a decade, and never thought their live act lived up to their records -- once they were done with club shows. You can find some reviews that were more one-note positive somewhere else.
The Crowd: Impressively dressed. Appeared to have none of my hang-ups about what they were witnessing.
Random Notebook Dump: The feather in the woman's hair in front of me is blocking my view!
My Body Is a Cage
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Joan of Arc
Ready to Start
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
No Cars Go
It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
When You Were Mine intro (Prince)
Here Comes the Night Time
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