From May 18 to the 20th, the Chicago Theatre was jam-packed with dapper hipsters and drunken young professionals. Shockingly, it wasn’t because of the hit musical comedy Shear Madness. Arcade Fire, everyone’s favorite art-rockers, brought these flocks of people upon the historic theatre. Besides the expected crowd, a diverse variety of ages and backgrounds of people also showed up. The band’s popularity has grown faster than Robin Williams in Jack, and now it’s more than just apathetic scenesters in hoodies mentally getting down at the shows. Not only did this make for fantastic people-watching, but it brings up issues of what a concert is and to whom.
To take the issue on the flip side, last summer I ventured out to the Midwest Bank of America Industries Incorporated dot org Amphitheatre (formerly the Tweeter Center, formerly The World) in Tinley Park to see none other than America’s Idol, Kelly Clarkson. Loading up my van with some friends and one’s young niece to legitimize our attendance, we headed out to the venue with a lot of excitement and surprisingly little irony.
What we got was a whirlwind of pop music pizzazz. Appearing as a silhouette, Kelly was met with insane screaming and flailing of all varieties and in the midst of explosions and fireworks a screen dropped revealing the superstar and the crowd reached a collective glitter-laden orgasm.
There were costume changes, set changes, millions of video stimuli and a little boy moved to tears directly to our right. The whole event was pretty hilarious and a lot of fun. Watching a bunch of adoring fans not caring about relevance or sonic atmosphere our even sound quality was pretty refreshing. Clapping and singing along wasn’t looked down upon but was necessary. The $40 T-shirts didn’t even anger me. Despite it being totally fabricated by corporate sleaze bags, the whole event seemed so much more innocent and pure than what I have been used to by going to too many Andrew Bird or Akron Family type concerts.
To bring it back to Arcade Fire, the concert featured a level of drama and pomp not seen in most concerts. There was a dramatic, funny, but also scary intro video featuring a woman preacher. Video screens showed the members playing in grainy black and white and the crowd was pushed to uncontrollable fits of dancing and shaking. My friend accidentally punched a security guard in the ecstasy of the concert.
Does that sound similar? The Arcade Fire concert was almost identical, in experience, to the Kelly Clarkson concert; only it wasn’t little girls jumping up and down. We were urged to clap to the beats and shout when necessary. People went bananas when “Rebellion” appeared out of a cacophonic drone late in the set just as Kelly Clarkson saved “Walk Away” for her finale.
Does this make Kelly or Arcade Fire more legitimate? I think it shows that it’s not about how many records you sell or how many best of critics’ lists you end up on, it’s how a band can make a couple thousand people not be little girls with self-made T-shirts or grown women with dramatic bangs and a hand-sewn dress, but be channels of music. People are like those electronic flowers with the sunglasses and a plastic saxophone; a great musical artist is the hands clapping just right to make the flower shake.