The penultimate song on The Suburbs was an inflection point for Arcade Fire. The track, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” featured an exuberant Regine Chassagne on vocals over a retro-glossy synth-pop track. It suggested that her real comfort zone was not in aspirational arena-filling anthems, but on the dance floor. Although the album went on to win Album of the Year at the Grammys, the sound that Arcade Fire was known for changed in line with the new musical times - more “Sprawl II” than “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels).” Their latest album Everything Now signaled that it wasn’t just a phase - the title track and other tracks are more danceable than anything in their back catalog but at the expense of the anthemic qualities of their earlier work.
So with a Grammy, three straight #1 Billboard debuts, and a stop at Capital One Arena, how should one make use of such a prominent platform? Well, attempting to satirize consumer culture might not have been everyone’s first answer. Much ado has been made by now about the album’s polarizing rollout: the $109 fidget spinners, the now-maligned dress code request and the eventual ‘firing’ of their fake PR rep. But it wasn’t their attempted commentary on consumer culture that made the night memorable - it was the music, as it always has been.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has frequently collaborated live with Arcade Fire over the last few years (including a second line parade honoring David Bowie after his death) and was the perfect band to kick things off and energize the crowd. Hailing from New Orleans, the band has taken their music from the French Quarter to the rest of the world for more than 50 years. The group still has tons of energy that rivals those that are decades younger than them. The interplay between one another is infectiously fun, especially when they would have musical back-and-forths on stage.
The 360-degree stage made it difficult for those on the ground level to get a full view of everyone on stage, but the nine band members moved around to various corners and edges throughout the two-hour show so those in general admission could get a better glimpse. Though Win Butler is undoubtedly the emotional center of the band, Regine Chassagne stood out on songs like “Electric Blue” and “Reflektor.” Even when she only provided backup vocals on the buoyant “Everything Now,” her keytar power pose and red leather jumpsuit made her stand out from her logo-adorned bandmates.Will Butler was a ferocious ball of energy during “Rebellion (Lies)” where he repeatedly jumped straight into the ropes of the boxing ring stage as he pounded on a large handheld tom drum. It was classic Arcade Fire, the cathartic showmanship that they became known for in 2004.
The new songs generally hold up well against their older tracks, with the exception of the jarring “Infinite Content.” The ferocious “Creature Comfort” became more and more of a highlight as it proceeded, as was “We Don’t Deserve Love,” where Win stepped out into the crowd to sing as Regine played percussion on stage with a set of wine and liquor bottles. Unsurprisingly, though, it was “Wake Up” that was the emotional highlight of the night, where the Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined Win and company for a memorable rendition of the song. As they paraded off the stage to a French Quarter-inspired reprise of “Wake Up,” it was clear that Arcade Fire never lost that wonder or joy, even if the music itself has taken a different turn.