Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Perfectly Incendiary: Arcade Fire Puts On A Faith-Rekindling Performance -- Concert Review

Concert Review

Arcade Fire
with The National
April 25, 2011
UIC Pavilion, Chicago

Throughout my life, I have attended almost 500 rock concerts. Most have been acutely enjoyable but among the ones that stand out as most distinctly memorable are those that represent the first time I saw some of my favorite artists.

For the enjoyment that any great show can provide is amplified when accompanied by the thrill of discovery upon first experiencing just how phenomenal--dare I say life-changing--a certain act can be on a concert stage.

I can still vividly recall the first time I saw Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., U2 and Nirvana (actually the only time on that one). But with the pool of rock artists I really want to see for a "first time" having largely dwindled, in the past decade only initial concerts by Coldplay (who I've never liked as much since) and The Killers stand out as "Holy F*ck!" virgin musical moments (although LCD Soundsystem was also really good last October). 

So for reasons beyond simply having taken in a terrific show on Monday night, I am thrilled to add Arcade Fire to the list of acts that truly blew me away on a first exploration.

How good was their show--the third of three at Chicago's UIC Pavilion? Well, even semi-regular (and who isn't?) readers of this blog have probably picked up by now that even when I really like a performance, I usually have some quibbles. It is a very rare rock show when I don't gripe somewhat about the setlist or the show's length or the energy of the crowd or the acoustics in the venue or something. (OK, so the Pavilion's squashedtogetherseats were seemingly designed to fit small children, but I can't hold that against the band.)

Get ready to faint and start making snowballs in hell because I have absolutely no complaints with what I saw and heard from Arcade Fire, a band whose three albums I have liked more than loved, but who did what a great concert act should in elevating their recorded material in a live setting.

It was, quite simply, a perfect 97 minutes; all killer, no filler. And although the 8-member band played largely the same songs as the first two nights, they changed the sequencing and swapped in a couple different tunes--including "Empty Room," one of my favorites from their Grammy-winning album, The Suburbs--so we got our own show (and any repeat attendees got a different one). In the vein of Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Radiohead and other favorites, I like when bands do that, rather than follow the exact same script night after night. (Here's Monday's setlist, with easy access to all others).

And everything they played--led by lead singer Win Butler and his multi-instrumentalist & occasional vocalist wife, RĂ©gine Chassagne--sounded great, from the perfect opener, "Ready to Start" to a sublime "The Suburbs" to first-album, late-in-the-show powerhouses like "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" and "Wake Up."

Sure, Butler comes off a bit more intensely gracious than affably personable, but it's clear that this isn't a band from which one expects stage patter.

But when the music is this good, accompanied by some striking visuals, who needs it? Although opening act The National could themselves likely headline decent-sized theaters and were enjoyable in their hourlong set--even it was about twice as much as I needed--Arcade Fire was light years better than their relative contemporaries in the modern alt-rock strata.

By this point, I  imagine there are two types of readers of this article: those who have seen Arcade Fire and fully agree and those who haven't and remain skeptical. I don't blame anyone in the latter camp; I was there myself over the past 6 years and even through Sunday night when their concert broadcast on WXRT sounded good, but nothing all that transcendent.

And who knows, maybe Monday was a confluence of a great show and my needing to hear one. But after having been in a bit of a malaise lately, Arcade Fire's emotionally-charged, perfectly-paced performance was not only a treat for my eyes and ears; in reminding me of the redemptive power of rock 'n roll at its most potent, it was truly galvanizing for my soul as well.

As much as the first time can be phenomenal, looking forward to the next time isn't a bad feeling either.

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