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ISSUE 121 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/5/2007

Arcade Fire lights up

By April Wright
Variety Editor

Friday, October 5, 2007

There are some shows that are just hard to write about. It's hard to define your feelings about them, it's hard to sum things up and it's hard to be articulate and clever because you feel infantile and dumb in light of what you saw.

The Arcade Fire with LCD Soundsystem show on Sunday, Sept. 30 at the historic Roy Wilkins Auditorium in Saint Paul made me feel that way.

So let me just say it: How am I going to write about this?

I guess I'll start at the beginning. LCD Soundsystem opened up the show. Whoever thought up this arrangement deserves a medal or a Nobel Peace Prize or something. The dance-punk band from New York City put on an earth-shattering display of power. LCD pumped out wave after wave of bone-quaking bass and delicately constructed techno mayhem.

Never once, however, did LCD's set feel too contrived or too carefully calculated. I think that's always been the strength of LCD Soundsystem: founder James Murphy is also a producer and understands the value of having a record that is incredibly strong and clean, but can still translate into a gritty live show with which the audience can connect.

And that's exactly what LCD Soundsystem delivered. The performance was so well-rehearsed, so energetic and so balls-out that I didn't even notice that the studio sheen from their records is gone. All you really see is a great band playing amazing songs with mind-melting rock fury.

On top of it, Murphy is really funny and delivers some great stage banter. I mean, honestly, I can't dislike the guy.

And, Arcade Fire came onstage, and this is where words start failing me. Everything about them is so absolutely perfect. I don't know how that type of perfection is even possible. They hit all the highs: "Neighborhood #3 (Lights Out)," "Intervention," "Rebellion (Lies)," as well as a healthy selection of other songs from their eponymous debut E.P., their first album, Funeral, and their intensely political sophomore album, Neon Bible. It was amazing.

Arcade Fire doesn't just craft songs, they craft entire moments. The gloom of "Black Mirror" could be felt in the bass-induced rumble beneath the audience's feet. Images of televangelists cut with action shots of the band flashed across assorted screens on stage. The imagery mirrored the (well-founded) sense of paranoia and radical distrust of the government in the song's lyrics. It's not a hopeful song; it's a song that when reflected on in light of America's (and to a lesser extent, Canada's) political climates is nothing short of terrifying. But that didn't stop the audience from awkwardly rocking their bodies on the main floor.

Then, the gloom broke. The Springsteen-esque "Keep the Car Running" and dark, jangling "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" were played with grit-toothed intensity. Their passion and heat didn't make them any less uplifting. The pervasive sense of comfort and hope in both songs loosened up the crowd, and soon enough the awkward hipster shuffle broke into frantically flailing limbs and shouted snippets of lyrics.

It was all up-and-up from "Laika" on. "Intervention" sent shivers throughout the crowd, "No Cars Go" broke out with a fantastic up-tempo makeover and "Neighborhood #3 (Lights Out)" caused the 16-year-old next to me to try to out-dance me. Poor kid didn't realize that my hips can gyrate at a full 500 revolutions per minute. I think my enthusiasm for the show was outweighed only by that of multi-instrumentalist Will Butler, who took off running into the balcony banging a drum and panting.

I have to say a few words about the set design at the show. The giant, neon Bibles (one of these light fixtures is featured on the cover of their latest album, Neon Bible), and thin light sticks that stood at the front of the stage were okay. But the projection of an organ pipe-like pattern onto the back curtain during "Intervention" was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. Arcade Fire crafted for themselves a church in which they minister to those left out in cold in today's political climate, a safe haven from the invasions of the government on the lives of civilians.

I'm going to go ahead and say it: if you didn't go to the show, you missed something special. Arcade Fire has been poised to explode for years. I saw them at First Avenue two years ago, right as they were first gaining a fan base in the United States. And what I saw Sunday night at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium was a band that has, in every sense of the word, arrived. Arcade Fire is here to stay as a force in indie rock.

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