Photos courtesy of Ryan Killackey
The Arcade Fire played a 5,000 seat venue in Charlottesville, Virgina last week and it couldn't have been a better place for them to deliver their songs about the perils of suburban life and the modern world. Sure, C'ville is home to UVA, and that part of town is a gorgeous hamlet full of kudzu covered Jeffersonian architecture. But head to the North and there's nothing but shopping malls framed on all sides by the Blue Ridge mountains. "Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains and there's no end in sight" indeed. The band was thinking about Houston, TX when they wrote The Suburbs, but the messages contained within it's songs could just as easily been about this smallish Virginia college town.
Now, on to the show.
The Arcade Fire has done it. They've won. Coming from humble, but never small, beginnings in early 2000's they have pushed and dragged their music up and out into the spotlight, until last year, finally, they got what they deserved. They took home the Album of the Year Grammy for The Suburbs, and while it was apparently a shock to many, if you were already a fan of the band, the win really didn't come as a big surprise. Funeral, their first album proper, is considered by many to be the best album of the past decade, and their second record, Neon Bible isn't trailing too far behind it. The band has just always produced material that exists on a plane that is just slightly above and to the left of all the other music out there, and this fact has always been reflected in their performances.
Bold, grandiose, exalting and uplifting, The Arcade Fire has never failed, not once, to pour every single ounce of themselves into their live performances. It winds up leaving both them and the audience breathless and exhausted by the end, and the experience is quite unlike any in modern music. It's like church for people who simply love life, and no matter how many times you experience it, seeing The Arcade Fire perform never, ever gets old, and Wednesday night’s performance was no exception.
Delivering a set that represented both Funeral and The Suburbs in equal parts, the band seemed less concerned with promoting their latest record than they were with simply being The Arcade Fire. That they have gotten progressively better over the years should come as no surprise, but the ways in which they have gotten better are as subtle as they are sublime, and on Wednesday night they all added up to performance that was better than I have ever seen from the band. Everything The Arcade Fire is doing now just seems right. Whether it’s pairing “Rococo” with “Haiti” or sandwiching The Suburbs' “We Used to Wait” between Funeral’s “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” and a crowd leveling rendition of “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), there wasn’t a single lull in the set and, despite the heat, the crowd never kept moving. Win Butler now completely owns his role of Springsteenian, stadium filling in much same the way that Regine Chassagne, his band mate and wife, owns her previously childlike voice. The rest of the band has followed suite and focused on perfecting the minutiae of their performances with the payoff being a show that it has to be seen to be believed.
Put simply, The Arcade Fire are the best band touring today, and their perfomance Wednesday was just another shining example of this. Their smart, emotionally charged music touches people’s hearts and souls as much as it entertains their intelligence. f you are a fan of music at all, you owe it to yourself to get out catch the band as soon, and as often as you can. Folks, this is about as good as it gets.