Thursday, July 12, 2018

Arcade Fire: Is Today's Best Band "Go to Milwaukee" Great? -- Summerfest Concert Review

Concert Review

Arcade Fire
w/ opening act Manchester Orchestra 
American Family Insurance Amphitheater
Milwaukee Summerfest
July 8, 2018

A few months ago, a friend was telling me about some appealing bands he had seen at South by Southwest in Austin.

Without doubting that he had taken in some stellar shows, I tried to elicit whether he considered any of the acts truly great in the way I tend to judge such things, asking:
"How many bands would you see again if it meant driving to Milwaukee [from the Chicago area] and paying at least $60 for a ticket?"
My buddy was a bit taken aback by the question, seemingly dubious that there were any rock acts meriting clearing such a barometer, not just for him, but me as well.

I assured him that, including Ticketmaster fees, $60 was pretty much the low-end buy-in for most of
the theater, arena and stadium concerts I attend.

And that over the years, I had gone to Milwaukee--from my home in the Chicago suburbs--specifically to see dozens of cherished rock artists. 

With the latest excursion on the last day of Summerfest 2018, the tally seems to be 75 rock concerts by 50+ different artists--counting only trip-motivating headliners, not opening acts or the gamut of artists I've happened to catch on Summerfest side stages--that I've seen in Milwaukee (or Alpine Valley, Madison or Green Bay; I've also traveled to many non-Wisconsin locales for concerts, but am not including such shows here).

Yet while this isn't such a high bar, at least for me, it is getting a bit higher.

Though I still love rock concerts and don't mind attending many solo, my eagerness to schlep up to Milwaukee to do so has largely waned.

Last year was the first in many I hadn't ventured to brew town at least once, and yearly attendance at Summerfest is no longer automatic.

Truth be told, I don't love the drive up and down I-94, especially in returning late at night, usually by myself.

So while I'm glad I caught several cherished legends in Milwaukee--Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney, Prince, David Bowie, Tom Petty, Rush, AC/DC, etc., etc.--enough for it to have long felt like a second home turf, I assume I'll be far more sparing moving forward.

But also increasingly sparse are contemporary rock acts that I love--i.e. not "legacy acts" whose members are past 50, or 70, although many of those are still great live.

Though they themselves have been around since 2004, Arcade Fire has become--since I first saw them in 2011--my favorite modern band, especially live in concert.

They were awesome last October at Chicago's United Center--upon which I declared them still the world's best rock band--and their ongoing Everything Now Tour found them booked into the American Family Insurance Amphitheater (long the Marcus Amphitheater) on the closing Sunday of Summerfest.

I had bought a pavilion ticket when they went onsale in March--though as it turned out, I could've gotten a good seat with just $21 general fest admission, as the venue was half-full at best--and rather than drive, I opted to take an Amtrak from Glenview and stayed at a Milwaukee hotel after the show on Sunday night.

So this set the bar that much higher.

The question wasn't "would Arcade Fire be good?"

Based on four prior experiences, I was pretty certain the answer to that would be, "Yes."

But were they so good as to be worth going to Milwaukee, by myself, for not only a good deal more than $60 for the concert ticket--including Summerfest admission--but the cost of a round-trip train and downtown hotel?

With the caveat that I could afford and justify the expense, enjoyed my time and some other music at Summerfest--though unfortunately missed Cheap Trick, whose entire set on a nearby stage fell within that of Arcade Fire--and had a nice time on Monday, taking in Milwaukee's Basilica of St. Josephat, Public Market and Public Museum, my answer would again be a definitive:


While the amphitheater didn't allow for Arcade Fire to maintain the tour's arena set-up of playing in the middle of the floor within a boxing ring, following a solid opening set by Manchester Orchestra--a five-piece rock band from Atlanta, with whom I was unfamiliar--the headliners rather thrillingly reached the stage by walking through the pavilion crowd.

During the show, lead singer/guitarist Win Butler and his wife, multi-instrumenalist/vocalist RĂ©gine Chassagne, would both take turns performing from a perch in the pavilion, not far from my seat.

As has been standard, the first song played was the kinetic title track from 2017's Everything Now album, showcasing the 9-member band at full power.

While unlike Springsteen or Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire doesn't drastically revamp its setlist every night--of the 21 songs played in Milwaukee, 19 were heard last October in Chicago--it does rearrange the order a good bit from show-to-show.

On Sunday night, "Here Comes the Night Time" and "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)"--the latter from the band's 2004 debut, Funeral--kept things on high blast from the outset.

Another Funeral song--"Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"--would forcefully follow, but not before Butler noted that the band hadn't played Milwaukee since the year of that album's release, promising it wouldn't be "another 14 years."

With my heart nearly exploding due to the truly thunderous sound and propulsive lighting accoutrements, I was actually glad the band then slowed things a bit with 2010's piano-driven "The Suburbs," rather than another supercharged Funeral song, "Rebellion (Lies)," which I suspected might come next.

"Ready to Start" amped things back up before a couple songs sung by Chassagne--"Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" and "Electric Blue"--again varied the pace, nicely.

Arcade Fire's latest album isn't their best, and "Put Your Money on Me" and "We Don't Deserve Love" from it threatened to slow things a bit too much, but I was glad we got a nice double shot from 2007's Neon Bible--"Keep the Car Running" and "No Cars Go"--and even that album's title track as the encore opener. 

"Reflektor" was also a joy, enhanced by Chassagne dancing both onstage and halfway up in the pavilion. 
The pacing wasn't quite perfect throughout--you can see how the full setlist--but the vast majority of the band's 2+ hours onstage was positively thrilling. 

As the main set wound down, a superb lighting extravaganza pumped up "Creature Comfort" before "Rebellion (Lies)" really revved things up again.

And closing the show, per the norm but never disappointing, was a full-throttle romp through "Wake Up," with the crowd singing along heartily, even at song's end. 

All in all, another remarkable show by Arcade Fire, proving yet again that they are the best rock band of relatively recent vintage, by a wide margin. 

Nothing I hadn't seen before, but I was nonetheless quite delighted to once again. 

Even if it meant driving--err, Amtraking--to Milwaukee.

This is a clip of part of "No Cars Go" that was posted to YouTube: 

1 comment:

Ken said...

Glad you didn't get burned, although it sounds like it was a hot time in the old town.