Concert Reviews

Arcade Fire's Live Energy Overcomes Browbeating Social Commentary

Arcade Fire performing on October 25, 2017.
Arcade Fire performing on October 25, 2017. Brandon Marshall
After seeing Arcade Fire perform at the Pepsi Center last night, October 25, it would be easy for me to join a chorus of music journalists and pen yet another long-winded criticism of the concept behind the group’s latest album, Everything Now, a supposed indictment of consumerism, materialism and the media. Rock critics’ darlings throughout most of its five-album, decade-plus career, Arcade Fire has been excoriated in 2017 for Everything Now, not only because its poppy dance songs have failed to inspire, but because the band seems to be confused about its own heavy-handed, satirical messaging.

Playing an arena tour, of course, is the ultimate expression of consumerism. And Arcade Fire did make some feeble attempts to acknowledge that hypocrisy last night: The band ran a few slapstick, pre-recorded videos on the Pepsi Center’s big screens that encouraged fans to “buy buy buy” the band’s swag at its merchandise tables. At other points, the screens projected fake commercials or showed a running donation count, as though Arcade Fire were conducting a fundraising telethon in the vein of a televised megachurch.

All of this was met with bemused or indifferent reactions from the audience members, from what I could observe. While I have seen some overtly political shows this year that did resonate (or at least infuriate) — like Roger Waters’s evisceration of Donald Trump — in comparison, Arcade Fire’s anti-consumerism shtick felt both blasé and forced.

Fortunately, though, the band’s tremendous energy and elaborate stage setup transcended any misguided headiness and, perhaps ironically, gave the audience exactly what I think most came to see: an over-the-top arena show.

“I swear to you: Every bit of fucking energy you give us, we’ll give back to you tenfold,” declared frontman Win Butler during the show.

I have to give it to him: He was right.

Arcade Fire’s energy was towering.

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Arcade Fire performing on October 25, 2017.
Brandon Marshall
Even the songs off the latest album came across in a totally different way when performed live. That became apparent right off the bat, when Arcade Fire’s nine band members assumed the stage — which was literally a boxing ring (complete with ropes) set right in the middle of the arena floor — and kicked off the set with the title track from Everything Now.

The band’s live presence was exactly what I remembered from the last time I saw Arcade Fire — over ten years ago, when I was still in high school and the Canadian-based group, way less known at that time, played an early evening set at Coachella. Just like that show, there were members of the band racing around the stage last night and engaging in all sorts of antics: wrestling each other, writhing on the floor, pretending to hit each other in the head with drumsticks.

Butler and his wife, Regine Chassagne — who I thought was the most captivating member of the group with her red leather jumpsuit and penchant for dancing like no one was watching — both assumed a more zoned-out, ethereal temperament as the chaos of other bandmates swirled around them.

All made full use of the unique stage setup, switching positions throughout the show to face different sides of the arena. (There was even a revolving platform for the drummer in the middle of the ring).

Because the band brought so much energy — so that even the new songs worked well — it was no surprise that the group’s older selections like “Rebellion (lies),” “No Cars Go,” “Ready to Start,” and “Wake Up” delivered exactly the type of gut punch that fans wanted.

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Arcade Fire performing on October 25, 2017.
Brandon Marshall
My sole criticism of the band’s set was that it was too up-tempo. Arcade Fire has quite a diverse repertoire of music at this point, and while the musicians did play a few slower cuts like “Neon Bible,” Haiti” and “We Don’t Deserve Love,” I would have liked to hear more of those. By the end of the show, my concert buddy agreed with me that the band’s constant, fast BPM songs — one after the other after the other — started to overwhelm and get repetitive.

But, again, Arcade Fire gets credit for leaving it all out on the stage, each bandmember a sweaty mess by the end of the performance.

There was even a tender Colorado moment when Butler mentioned how he’d gone fly-fishing with his grandfather in Estes Park before the show. Butler added that he hadn't been fly-fishing with Gramps since he was nine years old.

The anecdote drew genuine “Awww”s and praise from the crowd.

It was a telling moment. If the band is really going for a message of anti-consumerism and fostering relationships among people, that was it. We don’t need to be browbeat with artificial concept albums from indie rockers; we just want something heartfelt and authentic.
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker