Arcade Fire came of age in the social media era, and few bands have so accurately captured the anxious isolation and relentless hyper-connectivity of our modern times.
But the Canadian collective’s two-hour set Sunday night at the Xcel Energy Center glorified the virtue of being present, awake, and alive, while the technological distractions of daily life were momentarily forgotten.
As the house lights dimmed, the nine-piece band made their way through the crowd to a stage set up like a boxing ring squarely in the middle of the general admission floor. And indeed, the band performed as if they were fighting for the very survival of indie rock, climbing on speakers, white cubes, and drum kits throughout the show in order to raise their anthems of discontent and devotion even higher.
As Arcade Fire has grown, taking them from the 400 Bar and First Avenue to the big arenas, their creative scope and live show have also expanded. Their songs cover the pain of losing a loved one, the threat of religious hysteria, the isolation of suburban living, the vanity of self-consumption, and the chaos of infinite content. And the band broadcasts their perspectives on these heady concerns like urgent radio transmissions, frequently sounding just as lost as the rest of us.
The title track to Arcade Fire's new album, Everything Now, kicked off the show triumphantly. The new material has received a cool reception from many fans and critics, but live it sounded electric and energized alongside beloved older songs. "Signs of Life" flowed smoothly into a raucous "Rebellion (Lies)," while a pulsating "Electric Blue" (dedicated to Prince) smoothed things out after a fevered run through of "No Cars Go," which frontman Win Butler dedicated to "everybody who saw us at First Avenue." The set was expertly paced and rarely sagged, with multiple tracks drawn from each of the band's five albums.
The group continuously moved around the squared stage, giving fans a different look from one song to the next. Above them, four billboard-sized screens provided close ups of the musicians as well as satiric visuals that played off the consumer critiques behind Everything Now, but there was a unifying sense of optimism at the heart of these songs and this performance.
The arena lit up with twinkling cell phone lights during "Neon Bible," and Régine Chassagne covered both her eyes with her hands, as if she was afraid of what she might see. "My Body Is A Cage" was another stunner, as streams of white lights formed visual bars around the band. Vibrant disco lights turned the vast hockey arena into Studio 54 during "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" as Chassagne danced with silver streamers that evoked Warhol's factory.
The main set ended with a succession of towering jams, wtih both Win and Régine entering the crowd at different points. "Reflektor" sounded especially menacing, the smoke shrouding the stage added a moody edge to "Creature Comfort," and blood-red lighting gave "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" a sinister vibe.
Win again entered the crowd during the tender encore opener "We Don't Deserve Love," while Chassagne played empty bottles of booze like a xylophone. And the closing number, "Wake Up," continues to ring out like a call to arms for a generation still figuring out how to fight for what we want. But as our voices rang out in unison, we could believe that our dreams are indeed possible and that we shouldn't give in to our fears. Arcade Fire capture the allure of both hope and despair, and they let us choose which mood suits us best, while letting us know that we're not alone, however we decide.
Notes on the opener: The Breeders’ endearingly shambolic 40-minute set would have sounded much better at First Ave than in a slowly filling arena. "Cannonball" came early, followed by an ominous cover of the Beatles’ "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." Two new songs, including their feisty current single, "Wait in the Car," proved that the indie rock veterans still have something vital to offer, while a cover of Pixies’ "Gigantic" reminded us that Kim Deal (and her sister Kelley) have already made a prominent impact on modern rock.
Signs of Life
Here Comes the Night Time
No Cars Go
Put Your Money On Me
My Body Is A Cage
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
The Suburbs (Continued)
Ready To Start
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
We Don't Deserve Love
Everything Now (Continued)
Check out our full photo gallery of Arcade Fire at the Xcel here.