The following review was kindly written for by Samuel Mohar. I must admit, I’ve never been much of a fan of Arcade Fire but this review makes me want to give them another chance. If anyone else wishes to contribute a review to be posted on this site, contact me or the Webmaster at webmistress (a t) or webmaster (a t)

In preparation for my first Arcade fire concert, while spraying on some cologne, a roommate asks “Gotta smell good for David?” “Yessir,” I reply. Ain’t gonna hide my purpose here; I bought these tickets at least in part due to my hope that the man himself, David Bowie, would pop by, sing a song, as he did at last years Fashion Rocks, and once again at a follow-up New York concert Arcade Fire had. And after the opening act, The National, I doubted anything but his presence would make this worth the price.

Welcome to Radio City Music Hall! Opulencia! “Poor man’s eating off a hundred dollar plate,” and poor student’s going to a $50 show (after Ticketmaster’s healthy chunk). The crowd covers a decent age range, mean lower 20’s, median 29, as a rough guess. The man a few seats down from me looked 45, and I saw a few other older fellows, almost all in some sort of print button up over a t-shirt, often with its own design. The youth were as expected: late-twenties hipsters with tight vests, late-teens hipsters with that wonderful hair that apparently is never socially acceptable after that age, and a couple of Danish dames to my left, who were lively and would later dance throughout Arcade Fire’s set. I was in a nice white tee and some imitation cologne, and felt more underdressed than I should at a rock show. Shiny glowstick stirrers in plastic cups abounded, brought in from the numerous bars littering every floor.

The auditorium itself is huge. I made my way up to the second of three mezzanines, and sat down to view the giant egg of concentric half-ovals, nestled nicely back in the middle of the mez, enveloped in the blue lights twelve feet above. It felt appropriately isolated and distant from the stage, but comfortable, especially with the sparse crowd to which The National took the stage.

Their sound filled the womb of the stage, with poorly mixed and overpowered bass becoming like a disproportionately distant beating- you make the metaphor- while the screeches from the front-man sounded strangely close and natural, not reproduced or amplified. They sounded good, playing decent indie rock music with clean, solid, but expected builds. The songs became formulaic. The lead singer did his thing fairly well, singing Nick Cave drones into the mic at the odd body angles of Tom Waits, sometimes bordering new wave, sometimes going up into the aforementioned shrieks. Nothing sounded bad about the band, but nothing stuck out, either; we could have been listening to a CD player, and, had we been, I would not have been paying more than cursory attention to it. Now, the frontman’s leg was injured, damaging his ability to jump around, though he made good effort. But the rest of the bands’ perpetually bored appearance did nothing for their show. The drummer’s hands looked mechanical, in perfect time, in perfect rhythm; the rest of him could remain dull at the most frenetic beats. It was apparent, though, why they would open for The Arcade Fire; look no further than the drone guitar and slam piano on “Apartment Story.” Nonetheless, I was near falling asleep before Arcade Fire had taken the stage.

Coming back from intermission, an immediate change was noticed; the place was packed. How everyone knew exactly when to show up so as to miss the openers, I’ll never know, but there they were, twice as many hipsters, twice as many high-schoolers, and everyone twice as excited. The lights dimmed to a cheer, and five white circles placed amongst the numerous instruments on stage lit up with an old recording of some female televangelist. “Anyone who can’t feel the light of God needs a Jesus enema put right up their butt.” Yes, really, it was something very similar to that. She continued, and the theme was set.

If you’ve ever heard that Arcade Fire is best live, you’ve heard completely right. At first I thought the sound was true to the album, clean and well-rehearsed. Maybe, but that is far from all. By the time they tore through “No Cars Go,” I knew I was in for a theatrical experience. Strange faces played across the back curtain, sometimes fading into live feed of the drummer, and red neon lines of light stuck straight up in front of the band, six of them. Every “Hey!” was accentuated with a bright flash at the audience. And, more importantly, every person on stage, all ten people, were completely into their music like it was their first time playing it live. And they wanted everyone else to be, too. The lead singer at one memorable point in the evening tried to summon more people to the sectioned off space in the front: “Come on, there’s more room up here. Oops, he’s [the security guard] shaking his head ‘no.’ Come on down, what the fuck are they gonna do?” Wonderful sentiment, exactly what bands need to keep from losing all fan interplay to these large venues, except this ain’t a punk-rock audience. They may be into the music, but certainly aren’t going to run up against the four or five guards standing at the entrances to the barricades, especially not these guards who looked large even from my viewpoint and distance. So he does the next best thing, running out into the audience during “Power Out”, a brave stagehand dashing out to loose him some mic cord. The same song featured a gorgeous duet of fiddling, just discernable enough over the general drone. Later, in a valiant attempt to grab some much-deserved attention, one of the men from the horn sections ran all the way back along the side.

Which reminds me: never have the horns on Neon Bible stood out in any way, especially not as emotional catalyst, to my ears. And yet they were one of the most impactful pieces of the orchestration on many songs live. This leads me to believe that Arcade Fire could take a cue from Ziggy Stardust: TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME. This is not just ambient rock, to set on as background, this is a wall of noise! Every instrument is emotive, and every instrument is vital! The mixing on the album does not do them justice.

While watching, the smell of pot wafted up to my seat fairly early in their set.  The aforementioned Danish women danced through every song. The hipsters did their thing, which seems to be showing appreciation by standing attentively, occasionally nodding. The friendly older man leaned over and spoke with me, behind a rather cute hipster who hardly moved his hands to clap. The last time he had seen Arcade Fire, he had snuck into the VIP section (No one was watching it), and, after a few songs, noticed that David Bowie was standing nearby, completely engrossed in the music. This should have sent me back into fret over whether he would appear, but by that time, more than halfway through the set, I no longer minded; I was seeing a true performance. Beginning, middle, end, it was about the arch, about the concert as a whole. “In The Backseat,” a ballad sung by one of the women in the band, is not a song I’d normally listen to on an album. But when placed in context, with her stunning performance and strange little circular hand motions, the effect was haunting; the cello solo doubly so.

They ended beautifully, the drone dropping out, only a chorus of reverberant voices remaining, as a siren fades in and the band leaves the stage. A moment later, the siren is gone, the stage is barren, but for the five TVs displaying the Neon Bible logo. All that remains is the chorus of voices, which grew until it sounded as if the audience was a congregation, all singing along. A glance proved this untrue, but I’ll just take that as a nod to the sound men. When the encore claps came, they seemed obtrusive to this moment, distracting, a reminder that no, you aren’t in some strange post-apocalyptic church, just in an audience of hipsters. But getting to hear the man himself, and this time I’m referring to Win Butler, sing those words: “Poor man eating off a hundred dollar plate…” It was worth the disruption of the final tableau. But following that up with “Wake Up?” That was just cruel. Just asking the audience to expect Bowie to pop on stage.

-Samuel Mohar

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