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 musicians, the 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 performance. It 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.