Touring in support of their second full album, "The Neon Bible," Montreal's
orchestral-pop heroes the Arcade Fire are arguably the most successful indie-rock
band in the world today.
The husband-and-wife team of singers, songwriters
and multi-instrumentalists Win Butler and Regine Chassagne and their eight
versatile bandmates sold out a three-night stand at the Chicago Theatre in a
matter of minutes. (The mini-residency began Friday and concludes Sunday.)
Judging from the prices scalpers were charging for tickets that originally
sold for $31 (with a dollar going to a charity fighting AIDS and hunger in
Africa), the group easily could have done an additional three nights here,
and the same has been true across the country.
While "The Neon Bible" was a bit of a letdown after 2004's thrilling
breakthrough release "Funeral," which has sold more than 300,000 copies to
date, many of the new songs sounded better in concert than on album, as is
typical for this group, and Friday's performance offered ample evidence of
why the band has reached such exalted heights.
Powerful 90-minute set
Entering from the rear of the theater and walking down the center aisle to
take the stage, the instrument-swapping lineup suffered from a sketchy mix
through the first few songs as they incorporated ornate and baroque touches
such as hurdy-gurdy, mandolin, French horn, tuba, trombone, two violins and
even a scaled-down pipe organ, in addition to indie rock's standard bass,
drums, guitar and synthesizer.
But the rollicking, syncopated rhythmic
undertow combined with the musicians' unflagging energy and relentless
enthusiasm to carry things along until the sound problems were sorted out,
and with only one notable misstep -- the dragging and maudlin "My Body is a
Cage" -- the set consistently built momentum through 90 energizing minutes
as one high point followed and topped another, including "No Cars Go," "The
Well & the Lighthouse" and "Neighborhood #3 [Power Out]."
The conflict between spirituality and consumerism is one of the major
themes running through "The Neon Bible," and Butler -- a born-and-raised
Texan whose tall, gaunt frame and penchant for old-time clothing brings to
mind a character from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" -- is a harsh critic of
what he sees as the hypocrisy of organized religion.
"Workin' for the church while your life falls apart/Singing hallelujah
with the fear in your heart," he howled in "Intervention," another of
the evening's highlights, as the crowd clapped and sang along.
It's ironic, then, that the Arcade Fire's spirited, rousing and supremely
celebratory show ultimately evoked nothing so much as an underground rock
version of an old-time, gospel-tent revival meeting. Or maybe that was
exactly the point.