Performing almost all the songs off Funeral plus David Bowie's "Five Years" (Bowie recently was quoted as being a fan of the Arcade Fire in The New Yorker, and joined the band on stage in New York last month), The Arcade Fire played a tight set, moving quickly from one song to the next with very few, though gracious, comments from frontman Win Butler.
Butler, like the other members of the band, took the stage dressed in somber black. After minutes of distorted feedback, guitarist Richard Parry ripped into the surprisingly crisp, electric chords of Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels).
Like many of the other songs, the Arcade Fire played with the dynamics of Tunnels, matching the electric guitar with the steady - - but never overpowering - - drumming of Butler's wife, Regine Chassagne.
The strangest and most exhilarating part of the concert was the band's vocal delivery. All members, even those sans microphones, stood facing the audience and sang every lyric urgently to the crowd. They were imparting the gospel truth as sincerely as they could to their congregation of fans.
The Arcade Fire pulled off a tricky feat Thursday night. With each song, from "Crown of Love" to "Laika," the band walked thin line of singing, sometimes shouting, their musical secrets to the crowd.
It is this juxtaposition between the intimacy of the band's songs and the dramatic dancing and pounding stage performance that exalts The Arcade Fire from the ranks of pretentious indie rockers into those of true musical preachers.
The danger of playing an album like Funeral live, is that the album is an inclusive and highly personal musical experience - - a headphone recording. Loaded with images of isolating snowstorms and crowded back seats, the album reads like a myth (all the members were survivors of a Canadian arcade fire) and relates to the personal myths of its listeners.
Thankfully, The Arcade Fire managed to keep the intimacy of Funeral despite the episodes of mime-like dance and satanic tambourine playing. The end result made believers out of almost everyone at First Ave.
Butler turned the mic over to Chassagne only once during the concert, when she played her haunting and sexy "Haiti." Dressed like Winona Ryder's character in "Beetlejuice," Chassagne moved her arms like a broken marionette as fellow band members acted out the words and hit their drumsticks on amps and each other as though hypnotized by Chassagne's voice.
Both Haiti and the fast-paced crowd-pleasing "Rebellion (Lies)," featured the band's unique dance skills and Chassagne's tight syncopatic drumming. The concert ended like a good funeral might: with a hint and promise at the glory of the other world. Though the band experienced some technical difficulties, it still left the masses wanting more.
"Power Out" shook the crowd with blinking lights and screeching guitars. The last song, the rousing "Wake Up," saw the band and the crowd all harmonizing with the "ooohs" and "ahhhs," totally immersed in the religious experience.