Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Arcade Fire at Hollywood Palladium October 31, 2013

I couldn't believe I was going to get to see Arcade Fire for the sixth time. I knew they were in town celebrating the release of Reflektor, their fourth studio album, but the shows were difficult, if not impossible, to get into. I wasn't able to jump through the hoops required to get into the Capital Records rooftop show on Monday, October 28th, (photo below by Philip Cosores for Stereogum) or the "Music Experiment" show on Tuesday, so when they announced the Halloween night concert at Hollywood Palladium with tickets to go on sale to the general public (me) on Saturday, October 26 at noon, I sat there by my laptop with a cup of coffee, ready to jump.

From the very first try, the ticket sales website said, "Sorry, nothing matches your search criteria." As I repeatedly got the "sorry..." message I was cursing the bastards who had pre-ordered the album and been allowed to pre-buy the concert tickets the day before. Then the light bulb in my head went off and I thought, "why not try the telephone and see if any tickets have been siphoned off for phone sales." That's what I did before I had the laptop, and nobody uses the phone anymore. Eureka! Within three minutes I had my ticket.

My next assignment was to buy the album on Tuesday when it was released and listen to it repeatedly for two days until the songs were burned into my brain (downloaded into my subconscious). If I hated the album, I would still go to the show looking to hear old songs.

I have to say, on the first listening, Reflektor wasn't what I expected. As one dance song followed another, and another, I wondered if some variety had been lost. Then the second disk sounded unlike the first disk with a variety of styles that struck me as odd. This all is to illustrate how WRONG first impressions can be. Over the next two days some of the songs really began to get a grip on me and I soon found myself really admiring the thunderous production values.

By the time I got to the Palladium to stand in line I still had my ear buds in my head, pouring all the new songs into that part of my brain that stores all my music. Arriving just an hour and a half before the 8 o'clock door time, I was shocked to get so close to the front of the line, having anticipated a mass of people who had been there since noon.

It didn't take long for the mob of costumed concertgoers to close in behind me. Goblins, ghouls, the walking dead, dandies, hookers and a lot sporting as many reflective surfaces as they could sew onto their jackets and dresses. Many people simply wore CDs all over their clothes. Production people circulated among us and picked out some of the most reflective costumes to pull out of the line for some other purpose.

That purpose became clear when a Mariachi band started up with a blare of trumpets and the giant paper mache heads used in the "Reflektor" video began dancing at the head of the line as a camera crew filmed the entire thing (with our friends in the reflective costumes used as a backdrop). I'm assuming that it was indeed Arcade Fire who were wearing the masks and dancing to the Mariachis. While I can't confirm that, here is a picture (above) from where I was standing.

The Hollywood Palladium was all decked out in Halloween regalia from the front entrance all the way to the giant dance floor. Tombstones, cob webs, ghosts and collapsed skeletons adorned the walls, floor and ceiling. I grabbed a beer and headed into the huge auditorium as the crowd slowly filled every available space. As the crowd waited, R&B and soul music pumped up the already excited audience with high anticipation until Arcade Fire (disguised as The Reflektors in various costumes, and Win Butler wearing one of the giant heads) took to the stage accompanied by the deafening scream of ghoulish fans.

Blasting into the title tune from the new album, the whole room seemed to move as one giant undulating organism to the hypnotic dance beat. For once, the bass-heavy sound in the Palladium was perfectly suited to the music coming from the stage. The intoxicating thump of that song coupled with the anthem-like refrains and wall-of-sound orchestrations got the room into a frenzied high right off the bat. From that moment on no one was able to resist and we rose collectively off the floor, not to return for an hour and a half.

Next, without taking a breath, they dipped back into their repertoire for the first of only a handful of older songs they included in the set to blast us with a thunderingly aggressive version of "Neighborhood # 3 (Lights Out)". After the audience shouted out the lyrics along with the band, I was thrilled that they returned to the new songs for the bulk of the night, leaving the sing-a-long crowd stranded and forced to listen.

"Flashbulb Eyes" brought the tempo down a little as it qualifies as one of the albums less bombastic songs dipping into reggae territory and featuring twangy '60s surf guitars. It was a temporary respite as they then played a series of progressively more elaborately orchestrated songs that had the audience in a state of ever more collective euphoria.

"Joan of Arc" is a pulsating song with a throbbing bass line and continues Reflektors thematic analysis of fame with the telling line, "First they love you, then they kill you, then they love you again". Lasers cut through the auditorium, sweeping the audience, as the band hit their stride and Regine Chassagne's voice emerged through the noise with her atmospheric "oooohs and aaaahs." "You Already Know" provided an up tempo jolt with its funky beat and its clean melodic lines. When "We Exist" followed, the cumulative energy kept building until a big disco ball propelled everything into a gigantic swirl of lights, movement and music, with everyone bouncing along together as the band smashed through all the ever expanding orchestral and vocal gymnastics of this amazing song.

I was enjoying the hell out of the show from where I was on the floor, but, truth be told, when you're buried in the middle of a huge crowd like this one at The Palladium you're lucky to catch occasional glimpses of the tops of the musicians heads. The venue might be better off with a more graded floor or a higher stage. So I decided to wander for the rest of the show and catch it from all different angles.

I was up in the balcony for "It's Never Over" which has such an aggressive beat that I could look down on the writhing mass of revellers, and enjoy the light show that consisted of colored beams of lasers dappling the room and the mirror ball still pushing everything into a circular motion. I've rarely seen a happier audience. I stepped outside upstairs to get a shot of the parking lot where we had waited for an hour and a half and where the Mariachi band had entertained us earlier (below).

With the exception of "Headlights Look Like Diamonds" from their 2005 EP, a cover of Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge" and the encores, the rest of the set was all new songs, "Normal Person" and "Here Comes The Night Time" stood out, and it was really the key to helping me realize just how great Reflektor is, after all the hype."Here Comes The Night" had a particularly spectacular presentation with confetti fired from either side of the room filling the air with glistening shards that acted as reflectors.

I am confused by reviewers who say "it's just dance music." We'll, excuse me, but Arcade Fire has always been a dance band. Thank God everyone stood up for the two Shrine shows two years ago, because I would never been able to stay in my seat. The teaming up of the band with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem to produce the new album, pushed the band to explore a wider variety of dance oriented music that they have before and the result is an album full of surprises, including some that take some time to get used to. But the effort is well worth it as you'll discover one of the year's best albums.

Coming back on stage from a short break they performed two audience favorites as encores (and two of heir best songs) to finish off this incredible night and give Regine the chance to overwhelm us with her lead vocals. First "Haiti", for which she wore two giant pink foam gloves so that, even at the back of the room (where I was by now), everyone could enjoy her wonderfully evocative hand movements, which, to me, have always been a highlight of their shows.

And they save one of the best for last, "Sprawl II" from The Suburbs, which was such a stand out on their last tour, and it was again here. Regine even picked up the colored streamers she always used to accentuate her dancing and prancing all over the stage, taking command and holding the audience in the palm of her hand. I was like putty. We all were. It was a supreme ending to a superb show.

Limp from exhaustion and exaltation, we all tumbled out of Hollywood Palladium onto the ghoul, witch and Halloween crowded streets of Hollywood itself. The whole world seemed suspended in a weird time-warp, where the environment inside the concert hall and the environment outside on the streets were one in the same. After a night like this I wonder, "Is there anywhere better to be?" It took more than a few days to come back down to Earth.