Arcade Fire at the Chicago Theatre

Another old Daily Southtown concert review I’m belatedly posting now. I also saw the Arcade Fire concert two nights later, which was nearly as good.


The 10 musicians in the Arcade Fire made their entrance Friday night at the Chicago Theatre by strolling up the center aisle through the audience.

And then, the group frequently switched on a set of lights that illuminated the audience instead of the band. The message seemed to be that those rock stars up on the stage are just regular people like everyone else in the theater.

But what extraordinary musicians they are. Other bands may be more virtuosic, but few if any can top the Arcade Fire for playing with reckless passion and almost insane energy.

During the touring that followed the Montreal band’s 2004 debut, “Funeral,” the Arcade Fire quickly established a reputation as one of the world’s best live bands. That reputation is still intact after Friday’s riveting performance.

It was the first of three sold-out shows at the Chicago Theatre for the Arcade Fire, a band that played in front of a much tinier crowd at Chicago’s Empty Bottle just three years. Despite the exponential increase in venue size, the band still shows the same anarchic spirit that animated it when it was playing those early shows.

The Arcade Fire’s second album, “Neon Bible,” is a little more stately and subdued than the debut. It’s a very good record, but one had to wonder if the songs would translate into the same live experience as the “Funeral” songs.

The band has been playing the new songs long enough now that it seems to have figured out ways of taking them up a notch in concert. The audience reacted enthusiastically to the “Neon Bible” songs, clapping and swaying to the beat, but the crowd response got even more intense whenever the band played tracks from “Funeral.”

With violins and horns plus an ever-shifting lineup of instruments, including hurdy-gurdy, mandolin and organ, the Arcade Fire sounded at times like an orchestra or a folk string band, often playing with the spirit of a gospel revival show. Lead vocalist Win Butler sang his heart out, while several other members of the band added force to the songs with their huge chorus of harmony vocals.

During a few of the old songs, multi-instrumentalists Will Butler (Win’s brother) and Richard Reed Parry grabbed drumsticks and played percussion on whatever objects were in front of them — including each other. At one point, they threw pieces of a drum kit at each other. They never bothered to put on the helmets that they use to wear for protection during such stunts.

The Arcade Fire closed its second and final encore with Régine Chassagne, Win Butler’s wife and the other lead vocalist, singing “In the Backseat,” the closing track on “Funeral.” Even during this fairly quiet song, the band achieved an epic sound.

Chassagne sang in a tremulous voice, as if the emotions of the lyrics were still fresh in her mind. That’s one thing about the Arcade Fire — when these musicians perform their songs, they always sounds like they mean it.

Black Mirror
Keep the Car Running
(Antichrist Television Blues)
No Cars Go
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
Neon Bible
The Well and the Lighthouse
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
My Body Is a Cage
Rebellion (Lies)
Ocean of Noise
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
In the backseat

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