Review: Crown of Love: Arcade Fire Turn in Kingly Performance at Shoreline, Sept. 21* - U2 Feedback

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Old 09-27-2007, 06:01 PM   #1
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Review: Crown of Love: Arcade Fire Turn in Kingly Performance at Shoreline, Sept. 21*

By Luke Pimentel

The reigning darlings of indie rock are indie no more.

It became official on September 21st, when Arcade Fire took their electrifying anthems to the most commercial of settings - the gargantuan Shoreline Ampitheatre in Mountain View, California – and filled it with 15,000 souls’ worth of irony-free singing and fist-pumping.

Going in, it all seemed so wrong: Arcade Fire playing in a shed? With assigned seating? The whole set-up seemed to go against the intimacy and idealism fans have come to love about the Canadian ten-piece. Would the band be in a good mood? Would the crowd stay on its feet, or would they fall asleep, chained to their chairs? Sure, Arcade Fire’s sound has always been big, but does that mean they’re REALLY big enough for the big time?

The ominous flicks of lightning and thunderclaps in the distance seemed to foretell disaster. Instead, they foretold a night of supreme triumph, a night where the band put the finishing touches on a banner year, firmly cementing themselves as one of the world’s very top rock acts.

Instead of succumbing to Shoreline, Arcade Fire made it their own.

(Photo credit: Luke Pimentel)

There was, perhaps, no better place for the final jewel to be fitted in the crown; the band’s affection for the Bay Area has been well-documented. Local fans are still recovering from an epic pair of shows at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre last June. Coming into Shoreline, their expectations for a return engagement were mighty high.

On Friday night, the band answered the challenge, showing its appreciation early and often. “I know it seems like we play here a lot,” lead singer Win Butler said, smiling broadly underneath his canopy of blondish-brown locks. “That’s because we f—king love playing here.”

Their first act of business was to allow the ticketholders in the front rows up to the foot of the stage, so that the all-important connection between band and audience would not be totally lost. Though the rest of the audience would unfortunately remain stranded at their seats, any lingering doubt that Arcade Fire’s wall of sound could make it all the way to the rain-drenched back lawn was quickly dispelled, as the ominous, crackling strains of show-opener “Black Mirror” quickly got the whole crowd moving.

Their second order of business was to unspool one of the most expansive and exciting setlists of the entire Neon Bible tour. All the usual highlights – from the clattering drum cadences and violin squeals of “Neighborhood 2 (Laika)” to the mournful inner torment of “My Body is a Cage” – were present, but also bookended by a handful of rarely-played gems, like “Cold Wind” (from the soundtrack to the HBO series “Six Feet Under”) and, in a major surprise, “I’m Sleeping in a Submarine,” from the long-departed days of the band’s debut EP. Butler even threw in a brief solo rendition of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton,” stalling after one verse and confessing, “I can’t remember the words!”

The inclusion of both “Submarine” and “Cold Wind” were particularly resonant for longtime fans. Both were nods to the band’s extended love-in with the Bay, and telling signifiers of how far the band has come in such a short period of time. “If you go to San Francisco,” Butler sang to cheers during “Cold Wind,” “leave some flowers on the gravestone.” Although the tune is about a departed relative, it might as well have been a serenade, consciously echoing the spirit of Scott McKenzie and Tony Bennett, whilst self-consciously acknowledging the end of the band’s days as club-dwelling neophytes.

(Photo credit: Luke Pimentel)

Other tunes – the stomp/shout theatrics of “Haiti,” with Regine Chassagne sashaying across the stage to her own manic-pixie dance steps and hummingbird vocals – or the bubbling pianos and chiming guitars of “Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels)” – were attacked with ferocious energy. Although the performers were clearly road-weary after dozens of shows in dozens of countries, they graciously laid out everything they had left at the edge of the stage, and it was more than enough.

Before finally bringing down the twin tentpoles of Shoreline’s roof with a raucous, whole-audience sing-along to “Wake Up,” Butler mentioned that it would most likely be a couple of years before the band returned. “Maybe I’ll be able to grow a mustache by then,” he joked.

The humor provided little levity to dull the sting of Arcade Fire being away for such a long stretch of time; who knows how big they’ll have gotten by the time they drop LP number three.

On Friday night, though, they proved that no matter how big they get, they will always remain true to themselves, and to their fiercely loyal, ever-growing legion of alt-rock believers.

For more information on Arcade Fire, please visit the band's official website at
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