It's always something close to a religious experience for me to go to see Arcade Fire. At least, as close to a religious experience as someone who is religion-free can get. I feel transported, recharged, inspired, over-awed and re calibrated all over again. Photo by Timothy Norris of LA Weekly.
It's more than a band and they're not just musicians. It's performance art. The celebratory exuberance of the band is impossible to resist and, in spite of some failing equipment, they pulled off what felt to me like a perfect set when I saw them at The Shrine on Thursday, October 7, 2010.
Playing songs from all three full length albums it was so intoxicating that I think I suspended breathing for an hour and a half. And Win Butler hardly needed to exhort the crowd to stand, because the whole audience jumped to it's feet the moment they strode across the stage and couldn't sit down even if they had wanted to.
Because this was the band that returned me to rock and roll after a 20 year drought, and it was the song "Rebellion" that did it, my relationship with Arcade Fire is unlike any other. In 2005, I thought I was at a point in my life where things were supposed to begin to slow down. I had a job I loved, I had achieved a lot of my dreams, yet life had become complaisant. I felt somewhat disconnected from the real world.
It's August 1. 2005, and I'm busy being a potato on my couch, channel flipping on my TV, just after 11 PM, when I go by a public access station show called Refused TV, that showed videos no one else would, playing a music video by a rock and roll band. Now, remember I was not at all into rock and I paid little attention, but the song was "Rebellion" by Arcade Fire and I saw images of interesting looking people running down a street and playing various and assorted instruments and the song grabbed a hold of me. It reminded me of the songs of my youth, from the sixties, with it's free style and creative originality. By the time the song ended, though I didn't realize it at the time, my life was set off in a whole new direction that I could never have guessed even possible.
Talk about the transformative power of music. I am a living, breathing example of just that. I bought Funeral the next day and played it over and over and over. Within a week I was listening to ten bands, and within a month, a hundred. In November that year I went out to my first concert in 25 years (Super Furry Animals at The Avalon, 11/29/05) and it was so incredible that I started seeing as many shows as I could. I made a list of bands I got to hear and tried to see as many of them as I could when they came through town. My CD collection exploded and I rediscovered the passion for music that I'd had as a child, almost like awakening from a deep sleep.
At first I tried not to listen to anyone's advice and just let one band lead me to the next. I felt like I was canoeing up a river with multiple tributaries worth exploring. This trail I was following eventually led me to the local music scene. I started attending the clubs, meeting the bands, reading music blogs and happened upon this new life I'm leading. And this is all because of Arcade Fire.
It was two years before I got to see them, in May 2007, after the release of Neon Bible, when they came to The Greek Theatre for two nights. I went both nights because I intend to see them every single chance I get. Those shows confirmed for me that they are indeed every bit as great as their reputation. Maybe even better. And the Hollywood Bowl show later that year, in September, was even better.
Now, three years later, they came back, for two nights at The Shrine, touring on a new album, The Suburbs, that is just as good as their other two. Securing tickets for both nights, I took the Metro for the Thursday show and the sense of excitement in the air was palpable as soon as the bus became embroiled in the massive Arcade Fire traffic jam.
I had a superb seat in row 32 for that first night, which are the first raised seats near the back, affording me a completely unobstructed view of the band and the whole stage set up for the entire evening. This proved hugely advantageous as the visual presentation is no less riveting that the music itself.
From what I've read, that performance was fraught with technical difficulties, which I have to admit, I barely noticed. Win broke all his guitars within the first four songs or so, but he just resorted to the piano. No problem. They had to rearrange the set list, but they did so without a hitch. Performing songs from all three albums they naturally highlighted The Suburbs, and those songs were some of the powerful highlights, like "Ready To Start", "Rococo" and "The Suburbs". Watching the various band members trade places and instruments, each performing their own special show for the audience, makes the whole experience kaleidoscopic.
I especially love when Regine sang the brilliant "Haiti" from Funeral and then segued into "Sprawl II" distinguishing each with her astonishing interpretive dance moves. The whole thing was a blur of inspiration, excitement and ecstacy. It left me in a state of hightened excitement the whole next day as I anticipated the Friday show.
I went with friends the next night and we had to park blocks away, but I was sailing twelve feet off the ground anyway so I didn't notice the walk. I had a ticket in row 20 for this show so i was kind of buried in the audience. I couldn't see the whole stage like the night before, but I was closer so I could focus on individual performers.
A similar set list, in a different order, was the program for Friday, though Regine added "The Backseat" to add a touch of heartbreak to the set. Both nights the audience became a screaming, frenzied mass of group love, the likes of which I have rarely seen. My own thoughts on the two nights are a jumbled flurry of impressions and emotions, all of which I will never forget. Thank you Arcade Fire for all the inspiration and for the gift of a refocused existence.