With the end of each summer comes a complementary outdoor concert meant to signal that imminent change of seasons. Woe to promoters, though, who this year attempted to book that serotinal event for late August or Labor Day weekend, as the heat extended week-deep into October, turning this gargantuan double-bill into that hallowed occasion. And here I am, spending this summer day indoors, continually refreshing the beonlineb.com website so as to enjoy a heavily hyped Internet “surprise” that (as a friend jokingly appraised) basically amounts to a glorified e-card from Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler and crew, before heading out to Randall’s Island to join 25,000 others still bedecked in white shoes, cutoffs, and porkpie hats.
Bookended by Jumbotron screens, the two bands use different tactics to rock a stadium-size crowd. Ostensibly a one-man band in the studio, the live-quintet incarnation of LCD Soundsystem no longer centers on James Murphy and his decidedly anti-charismatic frontman guise, but rather the workhorse kick and unflagging high-hat sixteenths bashed out by drummer Pat Mahoney, stripped to a pair of yellow jogging shorts. On songs like “Get Innocuous” and “Time to Get Away,” LCD is similarly pared down: Restrictive and repetitive motifs are slowly built, synched, and sustained, all components emulating dance music’s build and release from the confines of rock-song structure.
Being the final show of their tour together (the two entities having had so much summertime fun that they released a BFF seven-inch split-single), a procession of Arcade Fire members marches out to guest on nearly every LCD number, the Canucks self-indicting on “North American Scum.” As an immense mirror ball (about the size of a discotheque) illuminates the throng and the noise grows, the crowd is seeded with glow sticks; flung far and wide, they’re an apt image of the no man’s land between disco, rock, and rave that LCD inhabit.
A video montage of televangelists presages the appearance of our headliners, with one pastor possessed enough to evoke the threatening image of “the Holy Ghost up your rear end” to her gathered flock. More populous and sartorial-minded than any working ska band, the Arcade Fire’s take on stadium rock is nothing short of a new religion for the gathered masses, cramming catharses into every chorus and verse. Propelled along by accordion, pipe organ, mandolin, fiddle, and French horn, the band also deploys the tactics of youth-group ministries, making rock-as-religion (and such lame, band-nerd instruments) seem cool once more. As the twang of an electric mandolin announces the Gore-baiting “Keep the Car Running,” the crowd erupts, shouting along with every line. On “Intervention,” a certain Texas-born, global-warming-denying hypocrite gets indicted for “working for the church while your family dies.”
Drawing heavily from this year’s Neon Bible, the band packs in so much shock and awe that each number feels like a Broadway production of
Born to Run: The Musical. The Arcade Fire live experience easily steels true believers despite the songs’ maudlin, death-plagued subject matter—but then again, what mega-church doesn’t have biblical catastrophe as its underlying foundation? Perhaps aware of such end times, Butler, drenched in sweat, dedicates “Cold Wind” to the summer sticking around one last day.