The Arcade Fire at the Empty Bottle

As the Arcade Fire was setting up its equipment on the Empty Bottle’s stage, one had to wonder: Just what are those motorcycle helmets for? Are stunts of some sort going to be performed? Yes, indeed … and protective headgear would be required.

(A brief aside: With seven musiciansthe Arcade Fire had some difficulty squeezing onto the Bottle’s stage. Hey, guys — the Polyphonic Spree has played here. If they can do it, you can.)

The songs on the Arcade Fire’s CD, Funeral, are emotionally intense, but they wouldn’t necessarily lead you to think this would be a particularly wild band on the stage. And it’s not as if everyone in the lineup constantly wreaks havoc, but a few of the musicians do display a manic, almost reckless energy. Like British Sea Power, the Arcade Fire makes use of mobile percussion, as some of the guys march about with a snare drum, shake tambourines or pound drumsticks on any available surface. The Arcade Fire also played musical chairs; almost everyone played more than one instrument during the course of the concert.

This Montréal group’s songs seem to be based around fairly simple chords and melodies, but they are strong melodies, reinforced by lots of backup vocals, violin and accordion. Something about the vibe brought Talking Heads to mind… and then, appropriately enough, the band covered a Heads tune, “This Must be the Place (Naive Melody).” The Arcade Fire also increases tempos and intensity in the final sections of many songs, echoing the fervor of the Feelies.

Main vocalist Win Butler sings in one of those slightly strangled indie-rock yelps, bringing strong feeling to these tunes. Régine Chassagne sings a couple of songs, too, including “Haïti,” which was particularly fun in this concert performanceIt isn’t always easy to make out the words on Funeral without the lyrics sheet to guide you along.

Once you do become familiar with the lyrics, the songs take on even more resonance. Death and neighorhood are the recurring themes. The liner notes explain: “When family members kept dying they realized that they should call their recordFuneral, noting the irony of their first full length recording bearing a name with such closure.”

But what’s really striking about the lyrics is their private nature; they feel like excerpts from a diary — the notes of someone who views the world with both mystical wonder and trepidation. “We’re just a million little gods causin’ rain storms turnin’ every good thing to rust.”

The crowd at the sold-out Empty Bottle knew these songs well and cheered wildly at many points. The music was crashing brilliance.

SEE MY PHOTOS OF THE ARCADE FIRE.

Fiery Furnaces set list

Better late than never… Here’s the set list from the chaotic concert by the Fiery Furnaces on January 15 at Chicago’s Empty Bottle.

At times, the Furnaces — brother and sister Matt and Eleanor Friedberger  — seemed to be playing different songs at the same time … but somehow it held all together. With barely any pause between some of the tunes, the concert was like a collage of song fragments.

Finland’s Unknown Films

Which great foreign films never show up in the United States?

As a fan of those quirky movies by the great Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, I wondered, “What else do they make in Finland?”

In a semi-scientific quest for highly rated Finnish films, I looked up movies from Finland at www.imdb.com, which helpfully lets you see a ranking of the top-rated films from each country … top-rated, that is, according to the people who have voted at the Internet Movie Database. Not a definitive ranking, I know, but at least it’s a start.

First of all, it’s interesting to see that 2,325 films listed on imdb are Finnish productions or co-productions… of which only a handful have even been shown in the U.S.

The top films by vote are:

Votes Avg. Title
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50 9.1 Kahdeksan surmanluotia (1972)
150 8.6 Komisario Palmun erehdys (1960)
146 8.5 Kaasua, komisario Palmu! (1961)
3901 8.3 Dogville (2003)
144 8.3 Chavez: Inside the Coup (2003) (TV)
106 8.1 Arvottomat (1982)
242 8.0 Calamari Union (1985)
11910 7.8

Dancer in the Dark (2000)

2794 7.6 Mies vailla menneisyyttä (2002)
Dogville and Dancer in the Dark should be disqualified because they’re actually films by the Danish director Lars von Trier. Chavez also does not appear to be a true Finnish film. Calamari Union and Mies vailla menneisyyttä (The Man Without a Past) are by Aki Kaurismaki, so it’s no surprise to see them on the list. Arvottomat is by Aki’s brother, Mika.
But what about the other seven movies on the list? They’re total mysteries to an American filmgoer. The top two films have viewer rankings comparable to that of imdb’s No. 1-ranked film, The Godfather. Of course, the number of people who have voted for these films is considerably smaller. Presumably, almost all of the voters were Finns.
So how about it? Let’s see Katsastus and Kahdeksan surmanluotia on a U.S. screen!
By the way, according to imdb, only three movies have been made in the history of Andorra.