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Arcade Fire, Madison Square Garden

Posted on 06 August 2010 by Caryn Rose (0)

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The last time I saw Arcade Fire, in 2007, I said that I was pretty sure that the next time I saw them would be at Madison Square Garden. So it was with relish I purchased tickets to this event.

Night one at the Garden was the see-and-be-seen night; it was a good night to have done GA and found a spot against the back rail with tons of room in front of you. We were there early enough to have had the chance to get a spot on the front rail but chose to hang back. This is the first time I’ve been to a show where the videos projected along with the songs were interesting and not a distraction (or worse, boring). I loved the stage set, with the overpass and the light banks and the billboard, but that the rest of it was so raggle taggle gypsy. There was a tiny step for Win to use front and center but he had to climb over cords (cords!) and monitors and between mic stands. The stage was deep but not wide, and even with the depth, they all bunched themselves together at the front, probably for protection and camaraderie (and more practically to make the merry-go-round of changing instruments for every song go quicker). The physical proximity also connected them energetically, it kept a pace and a flow. (I do wonder, though, if there isn’t some way to compromise even a teeny tiny bit on who plays what when to maintain even better flow between songs and not necessitate the Chinese fire drill every time.)

That said, it was fascinating and delightful to watch the flurry of energy. I do not know how they remember what instrument to play on what song. When the SO complained (lightly) that he thought 90 minutes was a little short for a set, my thought was dear lord I don’t know how they keep track of it. I’ve made the Dr. Zoom reference before, but it came up again (me also not remembering that I had) – “Yeah, I’m in Arcade Fire, I play drums” because EVERYONE (almost) plays drums in that band, whether they are good at it or just utilitarian. I love the punkness of that, of the multiple instruments and yeah we have three string players in our band, so fucking what?

The set was perfectly structured, at least to my taste; I hate artists who tour a record and then don’t play a majority of the record. I felt the transitions between new and older material worked well – again, there was flow and continuity. I thought the encore on night two worked better with “Keep The Car Running” as the last song in the main set instead of the first song in the encore.

I keep taking video of “Wake Up”. I shot some in 2007 with deliberate intent in mind, wanting to capture the moment of a band about to explode; now I shoot it for the same reason I have about a dozen video clips of the bridge of “Born To Run” -and yes, I just did what you thought I did. I’m doing it. It’s up there for sure, familiar as an old jacket but that doesn’t make it less compelling. (I am, however, a sucker for ritual, so I do not claim to be objective.) Night one it just made sense it was going to be where it was – you can’t follow it, really – either you start with it or you end with it – and night two I had the goosebumps on my arm when the bass drum was brought out. My only disappointment night one was that it was not one of those everyone on their feet, let’s raise the roof of this sucka!! MSG moments that I am lucky enough to have in the memory banks. Night one, again, had too many looky-lous, the type of people who start talking the minute they get there and do not shut up for one half a second. And maybe there was a little bit of what Win mentioned the next night, when he intro’d “Neighborhood #3” by talking about if you were standing in front of someone who asked you to stop dancing because they were trying to watch the show, and that you should say, “Sorry, I respect your personal space, but I’m at a rock concert” (big paraphrase, I don’t have the show yet) and then BOOM. There was abandon in the crowd on night number two, the people who were there wanted to be there, even if it wasn’t near sold out and the nosebleeds were curtained off and the 300s were only full halfway back.

I wasn’t even going both nights until about five songs in on night one, when I realized I had to do it again, had to have something to compare it to, had to make sure it was real. I spent all day Wednesday hitting Ticketmaster, pulling and throwing back seats in 306 and 307 and despaired I would be home watching on YouTube until about 3:30, when the sidestage seats dropped. Night two was a more relaxed performance, a stronger performance, something I had worried about given the usual way things fall out when a show is being recorded for anything. The forays into the crowd were funny, and yes, at least partially planned, but going out into the audience with the world’s longest mic cord just can’t feel contrived by its very nature. At some point I decided it was a certain frustration with the size and the scale and going into the crowd was bringing them into the show, as much as you can have audience participation at a huge arena show. It worked. At the very least, I found it charming.

I like Arcade Fire because they leave blood on the stage, because they care, because they don’t care what you think about what they’re doing up there. I love that there is no irony, that Regine wears a sequined majorettes dress and twirls around with ribbons like some modern day Stevie Nicks. And I love the songs, because they grow and unfold and stay with you and last. They are big songs, and they take chances. The songs like are like setting a big jack-in-the-box onstage and turning the lever and BOOM – it’s in your face and you can’t ignore it. Either it’s loud or it’s curious or it sneaks up on you. In 2007, I was not sure that this was my band, was not sure that I belonged; they are both more trendy and less trendy now, and are big enough for people to sneer at them. They’re not cool any more, which means there’s room for me. I am still not sure they are my band, but I like them well enough to try. They resonate stronger with me than other bands that ‘should’ be in that spot (Wilco is the first one that comes to mind – I AM NOT COMPARING THEM, back down, just that I always feel like I should love Wilco more than I do). I love the records, and I adore the live show. I like what they do, I like protecting the fans and paperless tickets for GA, I like GA down front so the seats can’t be sold. I like the packaging and the artwork; I bought the vinyl simply for a vote of “I am glad someone is still doing these things in this way”. I loved the assemblage of the show, of putting Spoon on the bill. (Who also get credit for bringing something special to the night with the horn section. It was funny to me the second night to see that Britt Daniel had abandoned night one’s all white ensemble to what I was calling the “Mick Jones At Shea Stadium” special, black and red so that he *could be seen*).

But mostly I love that I am never bored, that I have plenty of chances to sing and jump and shout and wave my hands in the air and clap along. I don’t know if people don’t really do those things any more; I kind of started to get that feeling the first night, but night two we were surrounded by plenty of people happy to be there and didn’t care who knew that they were. I am happy that both nights we spilled onto the subway laughing and sweaty and feeling like I was 15 and going to concerts at the Garden for the first time.


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