Wednesday, August 27, 2014

With Unrelenting, Unrivaled Audiovisual Barrage, Arcade Fire Proves Themselves Singular -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Arcade Fire
w/ opening act Devo
plus DJ Dan Deacon
United Center, Chicago
August 26, 2014

Before going to the United Center on Tuesday night for Arcade Fire's first of two concerts there, I thought--having seen them twice before--that I might open this review by opining that they are the best band to arise in the 21st century.

Following the show, not only has that status been resoundingly reaffirmed, but I would even suggest that Arcade Fire has established itself as one of the best live acts in rock history.

Heady praise, I know. Perhaps hyperbolic. 

And if propagated by a post-show haze, so be it. (Though several hours have now passed.)

But, if anything, these acclamations may be more acute and constrictive than they need to be.

Even in loosely defining "arising in the 21st century" and with due respect to the White Stripes, Coldplay, the Killers, Black Keys, System of a Down and others--all of whom I like--it's not as is there have been a plethora of really great contemporary rock bands, especially among any still extant.

And while, at least today--specifically--I would give Arcade Fire the nod over any of the aforementioned, due to a combination of recorded and concert prowess (and consistency), none of their songs or even albums would likely rank among my Top 50, or even 100 or more, favorites of all-time.

Which oddly helps to connote why I have found them--once again--to be such a magnificent live act.

The band--more like an orchestra as there were up to 12 members onstage at a time--certainly have many terrific songs from four good-to-great albums, but it's not as if their catalog compares to that of Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Billy Joel, U2 or most of the "legacy acts" that now largely comprise my concert calendar.

But not only is there something inherently entrancing about seeing a band clearly in their prime--something I ruefully rarely am inspired to do these days, given the sparsity of new acts I know and like--but as concert performers, the Montreal-based collective goes exponentially beyond what their recorded oeuvre would suggest.

In other words, with clearly well-planned, practiced and presented stagecraft, Arcade Fire greatly amplifies their material--in multiple contexts.

I have attended hundreds of concerts in arenas, most frequently sitting in the highest level, but until Tuesday night I don't recall sitting in the 3rd deck of the United Center and having my seat rattle throughout the show.

In terms of sheer sonic force, I can't readily think of any concerts that have--well, rocked--me to the same extent.

AC/DC and Metallica come to mind, but those are basically power chord, bass and drum assaults.

With pianos, horns, violins, bongo drums and the typical rock gear, Arcade Fire's blast is one of instrumentation with greater depth and breadth than anyone--not even Springsteen with the mighty E Street band is as aurally rich and thunderous.

It's hard to describe, especially as while one can readily imagine many influences--Talking Heads, David Bowie, Springsteen, LCD Soundsystem, punk bands and much more--Arcade Fire isn't readily comparable to anyone else. But perhaps try to imagine a Wilco-Nirvana mashup and you may get a sense of what Arcade Fire sounds like live.

And with a variety of visual accoutrements--including costumes, masks, background videos, elaborate lighting, even a group of men proudly dancing in effeminate fashion during "We Exist"--Arcade Fire made their concert feel almost like a party.

Speaking of parties, I was rather late to discovering Arcade Fire's power & prowess as a live act.

I liked their much-acclaimed debut album, Funeral, and got their second, Neon Bible, but even in appreciating 2010's The Suburbs and seeing a full streaming concert around its release, I really didn't know "what the fuss was all about" until seeing them in April 2011 at the UIC Pavilion.

My review of that show was rather similarly fawning to this one, so although I can identify with any skepticism of those who have never seen Arcade Fire--especially indoors--I wasn't all that surprised by how good they were at the United Center.

Yet I was still awestruck astonished.

Of 20 songs played over a near 2-hour show, seven were from 2013's Reflektor, which being a double album with a prevalent dance vibe, isn't as thorough satisfying as earlier albums. For other bands featuring so much new material might have seemed dubious.

But not a single song dragged and the title tune, "Joan of Arc" (restarted after a technical snafu), "Afterlife" and "Normal Person" were among the show's highlights.

Of course, "Neighborhood 3 (Power Out)," "Month of May," "The Suburbs," "Keep the Car Running," "No Cars Go," "Ready to Start," "Rebellion (Lies)," "Sprawl II" and "Wake Up" were also tremendous.

(See the full 8/26/14 setlist for Arcade Fire in Chicago on

After bringing David Johansen, David Byrne and Marky Ramone onstage at recent New York shows--exacerbating Arcade Fire's trend of playing a locally-relevant cover--it was a bit disappointing that Tuesday night brought no special Chicago guest, merely a rendition of "Who Do You Love?" by Bo Diddley, who I've never much identified with the Windy City (wrongly, per Wikipedia).

But while I will feel a twinge of envy if I hear that Billy Corgan or Dennis DeYoung showed up on Wednesday, in a way Arcade Fire was so good on their own that a gimmicky special guest may have felt a tad unnecessary or even off-putting. (Note: Mavis Staples joined the band Wednesday for a version of the Rolling Stones, "The Last Time," which has no obvious ties to Chicago, not having been recorded at Chess Records' studios.)

For as it were, in terms of getting satisfaction from my ticket purchase back in late 2013, Arcade Fire had me at "Devo."

Though I've always known of the Ohio-based artsy punkish band--largely via their flowerpot hats and ubiquitous 1980 single "Whip It"--I now realize they are a band I should have seen live long before their opening stint for Arcade Fire.

Running through a terrific set of songs--I had done some pre-show Spotifying but not much--that included "Girl You Want," "Whip It," "Uncontrollable Urge," "Mongoloid," "Freedom of Choice," "Jocko Homo" (a.k.a. "We are Devo") and "Beautiful World--while undergoing three costume changes without leaving the stage (except for lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh), Devo sounded incredible.

In between their set and Arcade Fire, a DJ named Dan Deacon led a variety of audience-participation dance-offs on the General Admission arena floor.

On another night, having seen two fans in frog costumes dancing for the masses may have merited mentioning a bit earlier, or even a photograph. Heck, I haven't even mentioned that Arcade Fire took the stage after walking through the crowd on the floor.

There's actually a number of things I've left unsaid, including naming any of the band members. 

But I'm ready for bed and I think you've gotten the point.

Though--as with Springsteen, still my favorite ever performer of any ilk--one won't really get it until they see for themselves.

While it won't nearly do being there justice, here's a clip of the show closing "Wake Up" that I shot, which includes lead singer Win Butler's shout-out to Derrick Rose: 


Anonymous said...

Exactly! Both bands need to be seen! Words can only take the virgin ear so far. It's why they tour. They must be seen and heard live. Time and money well-spent!

Anonymous said...

Exactly! Both bands need to be seen! Words can only take the virgin ear so far. It's why they tour. They must be seen and heard live. Time and money well-spent!