We Forgot All The Names, the Names We Used to Know

I had big plans to write my first big concert blog in a long time after last night’s Arcade Fire show.  I long ago ceased writing lengthy concert reviews when I realized nobody really cared (not your fault!).  But last night’s show was SO different than any rock concert I’ve been to, I had big plans.  But the need to go to work in between the concert and the blog has taken the wind out of my sails, so allow me to make a long story somewhat short.

So the music media has made a big fuss over this tour.  Arcade Fire has, in the past year or two, become an immensely popular band, but not in the usual way.  They don’t have any radio songs.  Their music doesn’t necessarily appeal to the average music consumer.  And yet millions and millions of people like them.  They are a band with “indie” or “hipster” appeal, and when a band such as that decided to play arenas, a lot of people cry foul.  I understand this argument.  To make music from a distinctly artful, non-populist place and then play immense buildings whose construction was underwritten by public tax dollars and then named after banks and beer companies, well, it’s weird, but also: that’s life.  What ya gonna do?  They’d have to play ten times as many club dates to allow this many of their fans to see them.  And I have no problem with talented artists getting rich.  So anyway.  There was also the thing I mentioned earlier in my blog about them requesting formal wear and costume.  So yeah.  A lot has been said and written about this tour (known as the Reflektor tour).

The band obviously has done all it can to silence these critics.  From the moment I entered the building I never once thought about the fact that I was at an arena rock concert.  Not once.  Not everyone was in costume or formal wear, but well over 50% (my guess would be 70%) were in one or the other.  Enough so that I never once felt self-conscious about my mask.  There were many and various interesting things set up and taking place throughout the concourses that added to the effect of being somewhere other than a rock show–I don’t have time or space to detail them. The house lights were kept off for the entire duration of the audience being in the building.  This is actually unheard-of.  What this means is, once we left the concourse area where you buy your beer and t-shirts and went into find our actual seats, the lights were off.  Like, even before the opening act.  The lights stayed down during the opening act.  Of course there were the lights from the stage, etc, but the big lights, the “house lights”, stayed off.  This added a major effect of otherworldliness (although admittedly also was in many ways a pain in the ass).  The lights stayed off when the opener was done playing, in the wait period before Arcade Fire came out (the house lights always come up between acts!).  but most surprisingly, the lights still stayed off even after Arcade Fire was done.  This almost seems like a safety concern!  But it was worth it.  It was the first thing, aside from our own costumes, that immediately changed our expectations of this event.

The modern-day rock concert is very predictable.  It moves with a certain pace and certain things always happen on cue.  Nothing was to be like that at this show.  I swear I’m trying to hurry this story up.

The opening act: Dan Deacon.  This man is an electronic musician (he makes music by himself using, well…electronics).  Again, right off the bat, just not what this audience is expecting.  But I must say, his music does compliment Arcade Fire’s rather well.  The big deal here is that Dan didn’t play from the stage Arcade Fire was going to.  He was on a stage at the other end of the arena.  This was genius.  See, the folks in the first 20 or 30 rows against the stage (they are not in assigned seats like me but are General Admission) are not going to do any dancing or moving, because they are concerned with their placement by the stage.  But Dan’s position at the other end brings the General Admission folks who were too late to get a good spot at the main stage over to HIS stage, and he proceeds to do amazingly interactive things with them; dance contests, “high five walls”, all kinds of neat stuff that probably is pretty run-of-the-mill at electronica shows but is all-but unheard of at a rock show.  The audience was interacting.  On a large scale!  AND, on top of all this, this unique and terrific activity made those of us in the stands rapt with what was happening.  Let me break that down: a bunch of hipster rock fans were rapt with attention at an electronic musician opening act.

So that was kind of neat.

So Dan Deacon got done and we waited for the main act. The lights stayed down which was creepy and awesome and annoying.  The wait wasn’t as long as normal.  After about 20 minutes, with very close to no warning, the main stage throbs with sound and light, the curtain gets yanked up, and suddenly Arcade Fire is playing “Reflektor”, the title track from their new album.  I was really far away but this is what it looked like from closer.  It happened with so little warning, I can’t find a video on YouTube that actually caught the beginning:

So then they rocked our faces off for awhile, which I won’t bore you about.  There were tremendous things throughout to really set the show apart: confetti and lots of it from the rafters, lots of glow in the dark things, incredible stage presence with jumping and dancing and twirling of strings and people wearing many different masks and just all kinds of oddities.  But mostly just really incredible, intelligent, emotionally-charge artistic rock music that can’t be beat.

I regret there is not yet quality video of their performance of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”, a song that is constructed like a swelling rock anthem, but is a story about two children whose town gets completely buried in snow, but they climb out their chimneys and survive, eventually reverting to more bestial ways and forgetting much of their past civilized lives, while also falling in love with one another. It exists as a wholly unique song in the pantheon of rock.  It has always moved me with its sideways and unexpected approach to deep human themes such as fear of loss, longing for love, and desire for the unexpected.  And yet, as unconventional as it is, as the song began to play, 20,000 people sang, quite loudly, along with me, lines such as

“Then we tried to name our babies,
but we forgot all the names that,
the names we used to know.
But sometimes, we remember our bedrooms,
and our parent’s bedrooms,
and the bedrooms of our friends.”

We were singing these unconventional lines like it meant something to us, like it was important.  Like they were secrets.

On their most recent album, they have a song called “We Exist”, which is about the pain of teenage gays “coming out” (so far as I know, everyone in the band is straight).  A great moment for me was Win’s introduction of this song, which can be seen in the video below, and then the absolutely terrifyingly gnarly version of the song they proceed to play.  What isn’t visible in this video is that during this song, the “reflektor man” came out and stood on Dan Deacon’s stage, as spotlights

"Reflektor Man" on the opener's stage during "We Exist"

“Reflektor Man” on the opener’s stage during “We Exist”

bounced beams onto all of us, as Win sang, from the vantage point of teen gays, We exist! It added yet another layer to the complicated, thrilling, and admittedly academic theme of reflection, twinning, and identity that is explored on the new album.

So the band ended it’s “main set”.  Here is one of those conventions of the modern concert industry I was speaking about.  The main act plays for about an hour and a half and walks off the stage, pretending the show is over.  We all know the show is not going to be over, that there will be an “encore”, regardless of whether it is asked for.  It is expected (one way we usually know this?  The house lights stay off, which of course means nothing to us now).  Well, literally the SECOND Arcade Fire walks off the stage, the openers stage again (which is closest to me) rises up in the air, and there are “The Reflektors”…this is an “alter ego” band that Arcade Fire has used throughout promotion leading up to this album.  This alter ego band looks like this:

the-reflektors-announce-the-end-of-collaboration-with-arcade-fire

The Reflektors are normally Arcade Fire wearing exaggerated masks of their own heads (get the exploration of identity and reflection????) but clearly this group that just popped up on the second stage was not them.  After claiming to be the true “great band here tonight” and trying to get us to chant “Arcade Fire Sucks”, a recording of Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” started playing and The Reflektors pretended to be playing it.  About halfway through the song, Arcade Fire came back out on the main stage (never a moment of us having to cheer really loud for under some guise we were “trying to get them back out”, no long moments of interminable waiting…just straight-through unexpected oddity).

So.  The encore.  They played a four song encore.  The second was a cover of BoyzIIMen’s “Motown Philly”.  They’ve been playing geographic-specific covers at every show so far, but I honestly was not prepared for this! Watch this amazement by clicking here.

The next-to-last song was the Haitian-music inspired “Here Comes the Night Time”, which featured by far the largest blast of confetti I’ve ever seen.  Click here to see it.  Start watching around 3:30 to be in good shape for the confetti blast.

They closed, of course, with their raucous heartwrencher “Wake Up”.  If you watch only one video on this page, you should make it this one.  Look at and listen to the crowd in the great video this person took.  This rivals the best crowd moments I ever had at a Pearl Jam concert.  Here are 20,000 grown people have an absolute, without-a-doubt, joyful cathartic moment together.  I should have expected that moment when they let us do the singing but it took me by surprise and shook me up. Watch how, after the drastic tempo change about 3/4 of the way through the song, the entire arena turns into a huge dance party.  And seeing the big frat-boy-esque lugs beside me just belting out lines like “I guess we’ll just have to adjust!” was a perfect illustration of what makes this band so great, and also so unconventional.

Setlist:

1. Reflektor
2. Flashbulb Eyes
3. Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
4. Rebellion (Lies)
5. Joan of Arc
6. Rococo (with snippet of Lady Gaga’s “Do What U Want”)
7. The Suburbs
8. The Suburbs (continued)
9. Ready to Start
10. Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
11. We Exist
12. No Cars Go
13. Haiti
14. Afterlife
15. It’s Never Over (O Orpheus)
16. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Encore:

1. Normal Person
2. Motownphilly (Boyz II men)
3. Here Comes the Night Time
4. Wake Up

4 Responses to “We Forgot All The Names, the Names We Used to Know”

  1. sethdellinger Says:

    I know there’s a ton of typos here but I wrote this whole thing in like 30 minutes and it will have to stand as-is!

  2. Did Dan Deacon bring his marching band with him? Saw him in Chicago, very entertaining. The overall review of the show makes me sad I won’t get a chance to see them on this tour. It sounds like an otherworldly experience.

  3. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    I missed this when you first posted it. Sorry it took me so long to get to it.

    It’s a comfort to know that there are bands like this out there that clearly care about the importance of being more than a band just playing songs in front of you. In the age of Youtube we can see that anytime for free now. You have to step up your game live and bring something unique to every single performance. Tip of the cap, Arcade Fire!

    • sethdellinger Says:

      Yeah they definitely make it an experience…I think someone who didn’t even know the music would enjoy themselves!

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