LastNight: Arcade Fire Ignites Indie-Rockalypse at Shoreline Amphitheatre, CA.
Better Than: The Book of Revelations
Download: A blasphemous concert slideshow.
By David Downs
There's a cosmic battle raging for every soul in the Universe. There's a war of civilizations raging between East and West. But amid all the car bombs and the gnashing of teeth, Arcade Fire's Win Butler stands tall and defiant, and armed with only a bass guitar.
Lanky and a little dorky, Win is surrounded by his wife and eight friends and their accordions and drums and the odd xylophone. They're totally out-gunned, but tonight, Friday night in Mountain View, CA., they fucking own it.
America's number one rock band is from Canada, folks, and let it be known that ...
six years and ten days after the planes hit the buildings, the band tears through the Bay Area unleashing yet another epic, brutal, and grief-stricken sonic Armageddon on some 15,000 followers who gather in Shoreline Amphitheatre.
Not a soul dares to try and beat traffic home during the encore to the devastating ninety-minute barrage, which includes the best tracks from 2005's debut Funeral and spine-throbbing renditions of “Black Mirror”, “Intervention”, “Windowsill” and “Antichrist Television Blues” from this year's Neon Bible. Instead, we want to follow the band into battle.
The four-year-old 10-piece from Montreal isn't kidding around. Funeral grieved for family and town, but Neon Bible rages against organized religion and war. Turns out America is tired of all that shit. We can't believe in it anymore.
So America took the dark Bible to #2 in March, then bought every ticket available for its national tour, including a now-legendary night at the Greek Theater in Berkeley this Summer. With the public crowning them kings of 2007, the bean-counters re-upped them for a bigger, louder, more spectacular second national tour this Fall backed by dance rockers LCD Soundsystem.
“This is the first time I think that there's more crew than there is people in the band when we travel,” says guitarist Tim Kingsbury.
Passing that tipping point in popularity hasn't damaged the sound or the essence of the band, though. A wrenching rendition of “My Body Is A Cage” quietly pivots on the title lyric, then explodes into church organ and violins and Greek Chorus-style wailing that brings audience members to tears. Rat-ta-ta-tat! Rat-ta-ta-tat! Rat-ta-ta-tat-tat! -- Boom! The show goes near-operatic in the shear frenzy of stage activity and blood-red neon lights while Win warbles, “My body is cage / we take what we're given / just because you forgot / doesn't mean you're forgiven.”
Fists pumping in the air, the crowd's fervor peaks with “Intervention's” blasphemous chorus, “Working for the church, while your family DIES!” as Win informs them that over tinkling bells that, “Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home / Hear the soldier groan / we're going it alone.”
Such moroseness is probably why fans moved on to lighter fare after an initial Spring binge on the Neon. “You need to be in the right mood to listen to Arcade Fire,” one fan says. Yet the live show demonstrates how to feel good feeling bad. The reigning arena rock kings have an emotional core of moody, grief-stricken, manic rebellion; as if to say, 'I'm mad and sad and I'm in-fucking-vincible, cus if this shit can happen to me, and not kill me, then, goddammit, nothing can.'
Which is something we all usually stop feeling after high school, and is possibly what Arcade Fire is tapping into. Teenagers are outnumbered tonight by hordes of lumpy dudes and in their late 20s and early 30s and their girlfriends. This sensitive, erudite demographic believes violently in the rightness of non-violence. They're essentially zealots against zealotry of any kind, be it commercial, military or religious, and songs like “Windowsill” are their battle cry. Which poses a problem, given the zealous violent times in which we live, as manifested in the venue itself.
“Arcade Fire, brought to you by Wal-Mart and Halliburton,” quips one young man as he looks around the neon cradle of Shoreline Amphitheatre. Owned by promotions leviathan LiveNation, the garish venue symbolizes corporate bloat and sell-out-itude; it's a banner ad-ridden former landfill where accountants sacrifice intimacy on the altar of mass entertainment. “We're just looking forward to bringing our music to as many people as we can,” insists guitarist Kingsbury as a justification for treading Van Halen's boards. And in that respect, they succeed and get a pardon.
Thousands of children of the revolution who missed the Arcade Fire at the Greek finally get their grief-boner wanked, so what if it's in The Man's stadium.
“I know, it seems like we come to San Francisco a lot, but it's cus we fucking love it here,” says Win. “Don't worry, we'll be out of your hair for the next few years.”
At which point the congregation yells in unison: “Noooooooooooo!”
Personal Bias -- Convinced at age six, that I'd be “left behind” during The Rapture.
Random Detail -- It's a lot easier to pick up a post-concert male hitchhiker if he has a female companion. As a hitchhiking accessory, females broadcast the message, 'Look, he is not a Jesus freak psycho killer. If he was, he would've cut me up by now.”
By the Way -- Arcade Fire intends to take next year off to record. So catch them in New York this year or you're SOL till Hillary Clinton is inaugurated.
Shot of Crowd --