Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Arcade Fire/The National @ United Palace

I started listening to the Arcade Fire back in 2005, when they were breaking big with Funeral, and I've been waiting to see them live since. They have such a superlative reputation, it'd be tough to live up to. However, for the most part they did, putting on a fantastic show that was marred by a couple of issues, only one of them actually their fault.

The major issues came from the fact that this was a pretty bad venue. The decor was nice, but it's tough to go to a show with seating after getting used to general admission. I actually had a GA ticket, and managed to get in on the bottom floor. There, I went and sat in a random seat shortly before The National started. There was barely anyone there at this point, and as they played, people filtered in, all accompanied by annoying staff people with flashlights, breaking the mood of the set. Now, with a GA setting, you don't have to worry about the new people coming in, but here, they keep distracting from the show, and I had the added trouble of being paranoid about getting thrown out of this random seat and sent back upstairs.

Anyway, I listened to a lot of Boxer and Alligator, and came to enjoy the albums, however they're not the kind of music that I usually really enjoy live. I like bombastic shows, with lots of instruments, or tightly constructed, dancable songs. The National's solid rock isn't instantly captivating live. i think the major issue here was that the crowd wasn't particularly into them, I was staring at that pipe organ, eager to get to the Arcade Fire's set, and The National weren't quite good enough to win me over here.

However, they did play a nice set, heavy on songs off Boxer. The band had an army of guitars arrayed across the stage, and occasional punctuation from some well placed violin. The highlights of the set were "Slow Show" and a scorching version of "Mr. November." They did their best, but ultimately couldn't compete with the looming specter of Arcade Fire. It must be tough to be an opening band, crowd reaction is such a crucial part of a show, and particularly in a seated venue like this, you don't even get the benefit of having your fans clustered in the front. I bet they'll do a much better job at their run of shows later this month, and I'll probably go see their free show at South Street Seaport later this summer. When I saw The New Pornographers open for Belle and Sebastian, I was a bit underwhelmed, but when they headlined, I was blown away.

Before going into the Arcade Fire set itself, I've got to talk about the way the staff ran the start of the set. A bunch of people had gathered in the aisles, and the entire first song was sent sending them back to their seats, I was a victim of this bouncing, getting thrown out of "my seat," and off to an aisle that thankfully wasn't too far back. However, throughout the entire first half hour of the set, people were still coming in. This is a major issue with seated shows, it feels a bit ridiculous that someone who can't even show up for the start of the set, two and a half hours after the listed doors time, should get to be up front. And, you wind up with a bunch of older people who aren't as into the show up front. I understand that the staff has to deal with this and keep order, but they frequently killed the mood. That's why it's bad to play a seated venue, or at least more venues should be like the Nokia Theater, which offers both seats and standing.

Black Mirror
No Cars Go
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
Black Wave
Neon Bible
The Well and the Lighthouse
Ocean of Noise
Antichrist Television Blues
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Rebellion (Lies)
Encore: Keep the Car Running

All this distraction took me out of the first two songs, "Black Mirror" and "No Cars Go." "No Cars" is my favorite song off Neon Bible, and I was a bit disappointed by the live rendition. I think it's impossible to live up to the recorded one played at ultra high volume. All the movement distracted the crowd, so people weren't as into the show as they would be later. I think that staff messing around really took the momentum away from the start, and it wasn't until midway through that people got really involved and the show picked up.

After "No Cars," they segued into a miniset with Regine in the spotlight. I hadn't realized how strong and unique her vocals were before, I heard that high pitched stuff on the record, but didn't connect it to her. She did a lot of cool motions on stage, particularly during "Anti-Christ Television Blues," and had a great pair of gloves. Not since Goldfrapp have I heard such a transcendent high voice at a live show.

Next up was a bunch of tracks off Neon Bible, starting with a great version of "Black Wave." Many of their songs ahve these moments where the music just takes off to a transcendent place, and you can just sort of drift in this atmosphere of sound. I love when they use wordless vocals over a sea of instruments, as in 'Ocean of Noise.'

While I prefer Neon Bible on the whole, I have to admit that Funeral's tracks were superior live. They offer more space for crazy drum banging and general insanity on stage. "Power Out" tore things up, my hands were practically sore from clapping so much, and the segue into "Lies" was phenomenal, that song was definitely highlight of the set, by this point the crowd was fully into the set, and I think everyone in that theater was yelling back "Lies! Lies!" as Win sang.

The encore went on, and ended with a stellar performance of "Intervention," and I was expecting them to do one more song, surely the show couldn't end without "Wake Up." The lights came up, then went back down, and I was like, okay, it's on now. I was hoping for a Bowie cameo on the song, but I'd settle for just the song itself. However, the lights went back up, and house music came on, and it was apparent we were not going to get "Wake Up." Now, that doesn't ruin the show, but it's my favorite song of theirs, and seems the most suited to full crowd singalongs. Now, maybe they're saving it for the next couple of shows, but still, I needed the song. I suppose this means I'll have to see them again.

So, even after all the hype, I was not disappointed by the Arcade Fire. They put on a fantastic show, and by the end, had the crowd completely captivated. However, I really wish I could have seen one of the Judson Church shows earlier this year. Most of the crowd seemed to know their stuff, but there were a couple of fratboy types behind who spent the entire show chatting up some girls and commenting on the fact that they only knew the three big songs. Why did these people go to the show, and is this the future of the Arcade Fire audience? Of course, on the other side were three people mouthing the words to every song, so it's not all bad. I wish I was still in New York later this week, I'd love to go to the Radio City show and see them again. Hopefully they'll make another visit before the summer's out.

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