Ten figures move through the stage like madmen, displaying an array of instruments including an accordion, a trombone, violins, a megaphone, and even a pipe organ. They appear more like the crazed rejects of an orchestra company than the rock stars that they are. With all the sincerity of Bruce Springsteen, and the grit of The Clash, every one of them yells at the top of their lungs in harmony: “With my lightning bolts a glowing, I can see where I am going!”
This is what I had the honor to witness on Sunday, May 20th as Montreal’s Arcade Fire prepared to finish out their three-night stay in Chicago. The set opened with a bang as frontman Win Butler strummed the first chords to their emotionally charged anthem, “Wake Up” after teasingly refraining from playing this the previous two nights. The energy of the opener continued as they followed with the Cure-esque dance tune “Keep the Car Running” and the fearful “Antichrist Television Blues,” in which Butler sings wistfully while bandmate/spouse Regine Chassagne delivers chilling vocalizations on a megaphone. As Butler howls “for they are the lanterns and you are the light,” he seems to be preaching as well as singing. The stage is his pulpit. Reverb and guitar is his sermon.
The set soon moved into a low key phase, highlighted by the ominous “Black Mirror” and also “My Body is a Cage,” in which Butler was temporarily replaced by a holographic, neon-rimmed statue of himself. “That man was very good looking,” Butler joked as he returned to the stage.
Energy was re-ignited as the band exploded with the hit “Neighborhood #3.” It seemed that all 10 of them had unending stamina as they screamed, banged, and stomped around the stage. “This is the moment in the set where they get to have more fun than anyone should be allowed,” a friend next to me said. Then, a startling transition to “Rebellion” got the crowd pumping fists and shouting “lies lies!” in unison with Arcade Fire.
Few artists can truly transform an audience like Arcade Fire. As the encore drew to a close, they had successfully won over the hearts of their Midwest crowd for the third night in a row. Their energy and emotion had been genuine and irresistible. I wanted to jump on stage and hammer on a snare or shout through a megaphone with them.
For fans new and old of Arcade Fire’s brand of emotional, orchestral rock, their live performances are an experience that must be seen first hand. Grab a ticket, grab your friends, and head out for the next show, before they turn the summer into dust.