Better than: Listening to Reflektor.
There was a moment when Arcade Fire began where I was convinced I was seeing the wrong band. Opening with the title track of their newest album Reflektor, it was hard to see the earnest accordion-playing art kids from Montreal under the shiny suits, blinding lights and glam motifs. I’ve fallen a bit off the Arcade Fire bandwagon since the release of The Suburbs – to me, and I suspect, many others, they will always be the band that wrote Funeral. Though it’s obvious that winning a Grammy, no matter how few people had heard of you at the time, is a big fucking deal, seeing proof of Arcade Fire’s success on such a massive scale was still breathtaking. Win Butler is now an actual rock star, and his army of bandmates are rightly confident in their ability to keep the crowd cheering for two hours straight. This is the dream of Win and Régine, I guess.
See also: Arcade Fire Opens Its Brooklyn Weekend
The Unicorns opened the evening, but it was disappointing to get so few songs from them. The hyperactive “Child Star” and noisy “Tuff Ghost” almost made up for it, as did watching kids who weren’t alive when Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? was released cartwheel around the floor, which was a heartwarming sight. The following act, Television, confused everyone, including the band. Though all the acts acknowledged how honored they were to be playing with the legendary group, the audience seemed less than thrilled by them, overall. It made sense — the twentysomethings dressed up as pandas and robots didn’t come to see seminal punk music. They sounded great, and some Gen Xers in the crowd were definitely rocking out, but they didn’t make sense on the bill and everyone knew it.
Dan Deacon, on the other hand, was a perfect opener for a crowd of strangely dressed people ready to party. Performing, as usual, from the center of the audience, and employing every flashing light known to man, his set was fucking awesome to say the least. His verbosity was charming and his patented crowd participation techniques went off without a hitch. Dividing the floor in half, he gave each side a leader whose actions they were to mirror. One of these was Joe Ahearn, former head of all ages show listings publication Showpaper and current curator of the Clocktower Gallery, who has been instrumental in Brooklyn venue Silent Barn. The other was Edan Wilber, the man in charge of long running Williamsburg DIY space Death By Audio. “Alright, we have Team Death By Audio and Team Showpaper,” Deacon told the crowd bemusedly. “Whoever wins is going to take over Barclays. They’re rebranding.” It was a sweet tribute to Deacon’s DIY bros, who have booked countless shows for him to significantly less massive Brooklyn audiences over the years.
Of course, the excitement of Dan Deacon was nothing compared to headliners Arcade Fire. Though I remain unconvinced by most of their newer tracks, I challenge anyone to witness the production values that Barclays allows without being entertained. Dan Deacon’s earlier jokes about the coming singularity were more apt than was comfortable — the giant, shifting mirrors surrounding the band seemed like they could become sentient any moment. The newer tracks benefitted from these insane surroundings, from which lights dazzled and golden confetti sprayed. However, it was their older stuff that hit the hardest. Before the show, I was worried that these ten year old songs would feel prematurely dated now that the band has reached such heights. But Funeral sounded relevant as ever, particularly on the explosive “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out).” Rêgine sparkled through the night, lending soul to “Haiti” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” Owen Pallett fiddled in the background and Colin Stetson killed it in the horn section. The vibes were good.
Cameos and covers are de rigueur at big deal indie gigs in New York, and Arcade Fire had already shown they were serious about fulfilling expectations in that area. David Johansen of the New York Dolls made an appearance on Friday, in character as Buster Poindexter, and the following night Marky Ramone showed up to play a few Ramones covers. Sunday’s show had more tricks up its sleeve. “The Reflektors,” a fake band costumed with paper machê heads took the center stage while the band took a break before their encore. As the familiar piano intro to LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” played, the real James Murphy’s voice came over the speakers. “We decided to get the band back together,” he told the crowd, who were unsure what to make of this. “Jay-Z gave me the idea.” It took a few moments to realize it was only a recording of the track that was playing, not a live version to my great disappointment. But my unhappiness quickly faded when David Byrne was brought onstage for a fantastic cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream,” before he pranced off without a word.
Arcade Fire left the stage a second time but quickly returned for a rendition of “Wake Up,” because how could they not. I’m not sure if this experience had the same impact on me as it would have had I seen them play their anthem when I was a teenager. But it was good: I felt the power of thousands of voices singing that one massive hook. Still, I couldn’t help thinking that something had been lost. As I sipped my $15 whiskey ginger, I thought about all that’d happened in the last few years, the ways I’ve grown, the things that have left my heart torn up. While it’s inspiring to watch a band bring so much energy to a song that they’ve played so many times, it’s a song about becoming jaded as we age, as they’ve risen over the last decade, some of that reality must have crept into Arcade Fire themselves.
Critical bias: One time, I did the hokey pokey with Dan Deacon.
Random Notebook Dump: “We Exist,” Arcade Fire’s answer to “Born This Way,” was an awkward misstep. Butler dedicated it to “all the boys wearing high heels,” and a video of presumably gay, bare chested dancers played on the big screen. Contrasted with Dan Deacon’s apology for referring to the crowd as “guys” (“we shouldn’t be using gendered pronouns, it’s 2014!”), it felt stilted and icky.