It's not entirely clear what Arcade Fire are up to these days, which, for a band that spent much of the past decade making their intentions abundantly apparent, is pretty interesting.
Take, for example, their Friday night show at 299 Meserole in Brooklyn, a warehouse-turned-art-space on a street lined with warehouses yet to be turned into art spaces. Like their gig last month in Montreal, it saw them billed as "The Reflektors," and fans lucky enough to actually score tickets were advised "formal attire or costume mandatory."
It wasn't really explained why folks needed to dress up, though they did, filling the warehouse space with wild masks, mariachi costumes, feathered boas and, of course, banana suits — there were plenty of suit suits too — nor did the band express why they felt the need to arrive at the show in a white stretch limo, though they did that too, piling out of the thing wearing matching papier-mâché headgear.
And it definitely was never disclosed why, after the crowd had spent hours cueing up outside, and another hour packed shoulder-to-shoulder, staring at an empty stage, Arcade Fire decided to pull a prank, drawing back a curtain to reveal that — surprise! — they were actually performing on a larger stage, located on the other side of the venue.
Actually, they didn't need to explain that last part, it was pretty brilliant (and credit former LCD Soundsystem mastermind — and Reflektor co-producer — James Murphy for helping set up the switcheroo by introducing the band from that small stage). And perhaps that joke also tipped their hand a bit: This time out, it seems Arcade Fire want to have a little fun.
That was readily apparent in the songs they played off the upcoming Reflektor, eight in all, which pulsed with percussive energy, wobbled on Dub-y basslines and burbling synthesizers, worked themselves into roiling grooves over the course of several minutes.
They were by no means cheery compositions, as Win Butler still mourned the emptiness of modern times (on the album's title track), pondered the question of identity (the excellent "We Exist") and eventually arrived at the conclusion that this life might be just as lousy as the next ("Afterlife, Oh My God what an awful word.") But there's no denying there's a spirit to their music, too, from the Stones-strut of "Normal People" and the stomping "Joan Of Arc" to the gleeful gallivanting of "Here Comes The Night Time," where rhythms crash into one another like drunken revelers.
You sensed their newfound looseness in the winding, whoosing guitars of "Exist," and the heady atmospherics brewed up on the brief "Flashbulb Eyes," and even when they did get slightly somber — aping New Order on the intro to "Afterlife," ruminating the passing of time on "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)" — there was always a hand clap, percussive snap or lung-filling "Woah-oh-oh" chant just around the corner.
And when their new songs were put in contrast with their older material, the difference between their serious former selves and their lithe and lively current incarnation was all the more apparent. Since they were technically "The Reflektors" on this night, Butler introduced both "Sprawl II" and "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" as "cover songs," and while were appropriately anthemic (the crowd went bonkers), they only served to further illustrate the divide between old and new: Once upon a time, Arcade Fire were content to simply move you ... now they want to move your hips, too.
Of course, it bears mention that Arcade Fire's reinvention is still an ongoing process, one that's bound to hit a few snags along the way. And on Friday night, that meant that, following their set-closing "Night Time" (which saw Butler burrow his way through the audience), fans stood around and once again watched an empty stage, not sure if another switch was about to happen, yet content in the knowledge that, surely, an encore was coming.
Only it wasn't; turns out, the bubbly Dub music being played over the loudspeakers was actually the beginning of Butler's DJ set — this was a party, after all — and after no one seemed to realize this, he was forced to once again take the stage, and sheepishly tell those in attendance "We're not playing any more. We're going to DJ and dance with you."
There were some boos, but, in a way, it was a fitting end to a wonderfully weird night. After all, Arcade Fire have won Grammys, scored #1 albums and sold out soccer stadiums ... now, all they want to do is dance.