Win Butler left everything up on the stage at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night (August 5), his sweat, his guts, his bloody entrails. All of Arcade Fire brought fierce energy — especially Win’s brother, William, who ran around like a crazed banshee all evening, smashing drums and keyboards and bumping raggedly into his fellow multi-instrumentalists — but it was Win’s show. And he laid down some musical domination.
It’s all the more impressive when you consider the room — or rather, the stadium. MSG is not an easy place to fill with sound and energy. For proof, just take note of the first opening act, the classically trained violinist Owen Pallett. The guy has clearly got his fans, but I can’t call myself one of them. Hate to say it, but Pallett delivered a muddled set that I can only dub emo cheese cut with bluegrass whining: far too much violin, not nearly enough musical verve. Perhaps all this sounds better in a Lower East Side club, but not at a 20,000-person venue.
Spoon quickly picked things up. Bathed in the soft glow of Christmas lights, the band ran through their well-known tunes (“You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “Black Like Me”) and variously called to mind David Bowie, the Beatles, and Belle and Sebastian. They also at times hauled out an impressive horn section, which filled the room with rich sound but still couldn’t rouse the still half-empty stadium to its collective feet.
Around 10 p.m., just as MSG magically filled with people, the many folks of Arcade Fire made their way onto the stage. They came to melt our faces off, and they largely succeeded. The set delivered a healthy mix of old favs (“Wake Up,” “Neighborhood #3,” “Intervention”) with cuts off their new disc, The Suburbs (including the jaunty title track and the hard-charging “Ready to Start”).
There was true rawness here, as well as a coherent vision. Through their music and the creepy-cool visuals up on the screen, the band communicated an eloquent reconstruction of what it means to be a creative kid growing up in the staid suburbs, when you’ve got so much energy and enthusiasm and nowhere to direct it all.
On Thursday, Win Butler directed it all at us. He clamored around the stadium, teetering on railings, stage diving onto the crowd, and marching through the floor while still singing, thanks to the longest extension chord in the history of the world. Behind him, the band kept up the furious pace, their sound swooping from heavy metal to stadium rock to gothic high opera.
The show, of course, had its down moments, but it was honestly as good a rock and roll show as you can see in 2010. During the four song encore, the band actually stopped mid-tune, as Butler announced that their drummer had screwed the pooch and they were going to start the track again from the beginning because, dammit, this is a rock show and there are no rules and everyone’s here to have a good time. The crowd roared its approval.
Twelve hours later, we must do the same. Arcade Fire? We approve!