The members of Arcade Fire, with their equally Clash-inspired bombast and army-fatigues wardrobe, surely never imagined back in 2004 — when the indie-rock group’s devastatingly powerful debut, Funeral, became an underground sensation — that they’d be headlining arenas. But it turns out that blowing the roof off such places suits the Montreal-based collective perfectly, especially as angst grows among the section of this country that wonders if “something pure can last” when reading headlines like last week’s, which included news that the House of Representatives had voted to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of the power to prevent businesses from polluting our air, earth or water.
On Saturday night at a packed 1stBank Center in Broomfield, the eight current members of Arcade Fire summoned the kind of big-time roar normally saved for acts like Bruce Springsteen and U2. And that was simply when the audience got sight of the band walking onstage. Fairly stiltedly running through “Ready to Start” (which Arcade Fire recently played on the Grammys after The Suburbs beat out Eminem and Lady Gaga for Album of the Year), “Keep the Car Running” and “Modern Man,” the crowd’s initial frenzy seemed a little less than justified, with the octet’s beautifully heartfelt lyrics and smooth musicianship not quite meeting the Saturday-night crowd’s pent-up energy. But that incongruous lull didn’t last long.
Before profoundly grabbing the crowd’s attention with the initial accordion and xylophone-led notes of “Neighborhood #2 (Laika),” frontman Win Butler (who plays everything from bass to guitar to keyboards) hinted at the irony hanging over the arena from the time the show was announced.
“We weren’t sure whether to say we were playing Boulder or Denver, so we’ll just say ‘suburban Denver,’” he said.
Yes, the band made famous by singing about the mindless “sprawl,” where “shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains,” was providing a cathartic, inspirational evening of poetic rock ’n’ roll right smack in the truly dead landscape its songs rally us to get away from. For miles around the arena, signs read “Costco,” “Best Buy,” “Chuck E. Cheese,” “AMC Theatres,” and so on; inside, thousands of teenagers, 20-somethings and 30-somethings drank $8 cups of Budweiser and, maybe, had their souls saved.
It’s truly remarkable, the all-out assault of inspiration Arcade Fire—at the peak of its unique powers—wreaks on an unpretentious audience, one ready to be moved by lines like, “the power’s out / in the heart of man / take it from your heart / put it in your hand.” But it became increasingly obvious, as Butler and his multi-instrumentalist brethren (including his wife, Regine Chassagne, and brother, William) ripped through now-classics such as “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” and the above-referenced “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” that when Arcade Fire takes a stage its members feel as if they are fighting a war against apathy. And there is no relent — Butler and Co. give the impression that a drop in intensity for even an instant would mean the other side, those “singing Hallelujah with the fear in [their] heart,” as Butler sang Saturday during “Intervention,” had won.
“Come on, suburban Denver,” Butler shouted as the “Clampdown”-meets-electro-clash eruption that is “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” caused the audience’s passion to boil over, “we don’t have much time left.”
Sadly, that was literally true. While Arcade Fire did poignantly pummel the buzzing 1stBank Center with inspiration, its set was only an hour and a half long, begging the question of whether the curfew was absurdly tight or the band members — barely old enough to buy those $8 Budweisers when Funeral was released but now in their early 30s — have trouble maintaining that customarily volcanic energy for two hours.
Nonetheless, the group’s touching lyrics felt especially prescient during “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” with Chassagne twirling around to ABBA-esque melodies and rhythms while singing, “Sometimes I wonder if the world is so small / that we can never get away from the sprawl.” Chassagne—who played drums, accordion, recorder, and keyboards Saturday night—was just as captivating during “Haiti,” the rapturous, shuffling three-chord ode to her homeland. A dollar from each ticket sold on Arcade Fire’s current tour is going to an organization called Partners in Health, which is aiding in the recovery of Haiti, where the band recently visited.
As usual, the anthemic sing-along “Wake Up” (which has been the New York Rangers’ theme song the past few years) ended Arcade Fire’s 1stBank set, with the hyper-musical redhead Richard Reed Parry wildly banging on a bass drum as the crowd nearly drowned out the band with its own spirited singing. The same phenomenon occurred at the end of “Rebellion (Lies),” the second encore, creating the kind of super-charged atmosphere that makes you wish certain bands could just play all night. But then, who wants to spend all night in the sprawl? Plus, the highlight, for me, was what noisily melted into “Rebellion (Lies)”: the startlingly uplifting suburban nightmare “Month of May,” also performed on the Grammys earlier this year.
Which brings me to another reason this concert was special. As of late in most of America, unless you’re at a rave or getting whipped in the face by dreadlocks at a jamband show, the majority of concertgoers typically stand stock-still, no matter how much they love the music they’ve come to see performed live. Saturday night, as Arcade Fire sang, “I know it’s heavy / I know it ain’t light / but how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?’ in the midst of the SST-style hardcore of “Month of May,” barely a body among several thousand was not in motion. Let’s just hope they all vote next year, too.