Saturday, November 04, 2017

Winner and Still Champion: At the United Center, Arcade Fire Retains Its Title as the World’s Best Rock Band -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Arcade Fire
w/ opening act The Breeders
United Center, Chicago
October 30, 2017

With all the concerts I go to, plus dozens of theatrical performances, it could be easy--in theory--to regard Arcade Fire as just another show.

No big deal.

A random entry on a busy calendar.

And even in finding the Canadian ensemble outstanding once again—as I had in 2011 and 2014–coming among seeing such legends & heroes as Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Paul Weller, U2, Metallica, Midnight Oil, Radiohead, Green Day, Billy Corgan, the late great Tom Petty and more, Monday's Arcade Fire gig at the UC couldn't have been all that significant, right?


This concert not only rocked and delighted from beginning to end, it mattered.

This isn’t just because Arcade Fire has great depth to its music and lyrics, pulled from all five of its
good-to-great albums, imaginatively put together a truly scintillating audiovisual blast or even that—at a time when all too few artists dare to speak out—lead singer Win Butler yelled, “Fuck Trump!” disregarding any career risks even as the band fails to sell as many tickets as it should. (My friend Paolo & I got upgraded to the 200-level upon arrival as much of the 300-level was closed, and I’ve repeatedly read about weak ticket sales in other markets.)

The truth is, as I see it, that Arcade Fire is simply the best rock band in the world right now, and it was important for me to bear witness to their live power remaining as blistering as ever. a time when there are far too few modern rock acts I know and care about, and amid a stretch when several of my musical heroes have passed on. 

Now before you start picking on my dubbing them the World's Best Band, and get all “But what about...?,” I, of course, give them that title with some caveats, though none diminish how good I think they are.

With the Rolling Stones having played several concerts (in Europe) over just the past few weeks, Arcade Fire can’t be considered the Greatest Rock Band That Still Exists.

I last saw the Stones in 2015, and still love them live, but they, like most venerated veteran acts--e.g. The Who--can’t match Arcade Fire’s recorded output over the past dozen years. 

This too is why somewhat younger yet already legendary bands still putting out decent new music—Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Green Day, etc.—and still delivering outstanding concerts come up short as “The Best Current Rock Band.”

It's worth noting that the nine performing members of Arcade Fire make them more an ensemble than a band such as U2, with just its 4 original members, but though I still love Bono, Edge & co., their recent material doesn't much thrill.

I’m also not counting Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as a band.

Or caring that Arcade Fire is a rock band whose sound of late is largely infused by dance.

For after beginning their show by walking—to a Michael Buffer-like introduction—into a boxing ring in the middle of the United Center, over the course of 2+ hours Arcade Fire retained their belt. 

And then some. 

Even with a much closer vantage point, the show didn’t seem quite as all-encompassing loud as at the same place in 2014, but from the opening “Everything Now”—the gleefully ABBAesque title track of the band’s new album—it was plenty thunderous. 

As the band, led by husband & wife Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, rampaged through "Signs of Life," "Rebellion (Lies)," "Here Comes the Night Time," and "No Cars Go," accompanied by dazzling lighting effects, the sonic force was so potent it almost felt dangerous.

As in if the pace kept up, something--my head, my heart, the roof, etc.--was bound to explode. 

So it was almost welcome—if not as viscerally thrilling—when a series of relatively slower songs ("Electric Blue," "Put Your Money on Me," "Neon Bible") quelled the pace a bit. 

But things were soon back to full-tilt, and though harder rocking tunes like "Ready to Start" and the set-closing "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" were inherently dynamic, the imaginative lighting displays--including those suggesting a boxing ring long after the real ropes had been removed from the stage--amped up everything else that was played.

So renditions of songs like "The Suburbs," the Chassagne-sung "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," "Reflector" and the propulsive new "Creature Comfort" were also highlights on a night full of them, as part of what has been dubbed the Infinite Content tour.

I also appreciate that Arcade Fire mixes up their setlists a bit from city-to-city--see the Chicago setlist here--and was happy to hear "Intervention" and "We Used to Wait," which aren't constant staples.

Speaking of staples, I had just seen the legendary Mavis Staples open for Bob Dylan the previous Friday in Chicago--her hometown--and as she and Arcade Fire had collaborated on the single, "I Give You Power" earlier this year, I was hoping she was on hand to sing that song with them. But I'm guessing her tour commitments with the great Dylan precluded an appearance (and the song went unplayed).

But the closing "Wake Up" sent presumably everyone home to bed on a high note.

Everything phenomenal feels transcendentally so in the moment, but five days later--when I've found time to write a review after a busy week--this Arcade Fire show still feels like the best concert I've seen in 2017 (and there are 10 others I've given @@@@@).

For those who remain dubious--and probably weren't there--it has repeatedly been true that I have found Arcade Fire's power and prowess something you have to experience in person to truly appreciate.

Their live potency--which goes well beyond the songs to include the visuals, volume and even a bunch of cheeky graphics thematically mocking modern day materialism in the guise of the "Everything Now" brand--does not nearly translate on screen, even in concert videos.

The Breeders
So with tickets starting at just $25--and great seats remained at that price up through showtime--for, at the very least, one of the best bands in the world at the moment, it's a shame Arcade Fire came well short of filling the United Center.

Although rather sparse for a fine opening set--including the ever delectable "Cannonball"--from the Breeders (with Kim and Kelley Deal on hand; I wasn't sure if both sisters were still active), the crowd filled in enough to be far from embarrassing for the headliners.

But in 2014, Arcade Fire played two shows at the UC that if not quite sold out, were far closer to it.

Granted the band just headlined Lollapalooza here in early August, but articles about meager crowds elsewhere have seemed pretty common.

So as Arcade Fire is providing living proof that rock 'n roll--in the present tense, including both recording and touring--isn't yet dead, and actually still at times amazingly enthralling, it's a bit disheartening to note that nobody cares anymore.

Relatively speaking, of course.

Recognizing that the band's debut album, Funeral, garnered rave reviews upon its 2005 release and--though I liked it--I didn't get around to seeing the band until 2011, I fully understand being late to the party.

But if you're a rock 'n roll fan who grew up loving David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Talking Heads, U2, R.E.M., etc., and believe that the type of music you relish has passed you by as a live entertainment option from non-geezers, let me say this:

Literally a winner in the ring the other night, Arcade Fire proved they are still champion of what great rock 'n roll is all about.

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