When Arcade Fire's Funeral first hit in the fall of '04, accompanied by the legendarily torrential hype, I was perplexed. This band is from Montreal? That's not what Montreal bands sound like. Montreal bands sound like Bran Van 3000. (Remember them? "Drinking In L.A."? "Couch Surfer"?) That was the slacker neosoul sound everyone seemed to be chasing back in the 1990's when I lived there. So what the hell was a vocal jazz major from my alma mater doing in this shambly, punky, anthemic indie rock band, featuring what at the time sounded to me like a really quirky instrumentation -- accordion, recorder, xylophone, harp, etc. -- plus all those great Owen Pallett string arrangements.
A lot has happened in the three years since Arcade Fire broke. At the time, the whole indie rock scene was barely on my radar at all. But I heard Funeral and I thought, hmm, maybe I ought to check out more bands like this.
Meanwhile, Arcade Fire blew up even bigger with this year's Neon Bible, to the point where they are now anchoring an all-day, five-band outdoor festival at Randall's Island. I'm not normally a fan of standing packed cheek-to-jowl on the blacktop for eight hours on an unseasonably hot October afternoon. But since I'd been either busy, out of town, or cruelly thwarted in all of my previous attempts to see Arcade Fire live, I figured it was worth giving it a go. Turned out Saturday's show is their last NYC hit for a couple of years.
Since this was my first, I can't compare this to other Arcade Fire shows, but I strongly suspect that the soaring "uhh-- ahh-- uhh ahh uhh ohh ohh-- ahh--" chorus on "Wake Up" gains a little something from being sung in delirious unison by something like 25,000 people. Despite the band's famously manic stage show (Will Butler upped the ante by climbing the scaffolding next to the jumbotron, King Kong style, with a field drum strapped to him) and the instrument-juggling that has become almost de rigeur for indie bands these days (Régine Chasagne and Win Butler both took turns behind the genuine pipe organ, and Régine even played kit on a few tunes), the band (mostly) kept up their road-seasoned tightness.
My only complaint is the sound -- it had been admirably clear and balanced all day, but for Arcade Fire, the mix did okay by the front line but mostly buried the two violinists and the pair of horn players at the back. I do love how Régine's voice slices right through even the densest textures, though, and her stage presence is adorable.
Brooklyn Vegan has the setlist and more photos/links. The highlights for me were the haunting extended take on "My Body Is A Cage" and the "Tunnels"/"Power Out" pairing. One amazing moment came after the end of the main set -- instead of the usual "we demand an encore" rhythmic clapping, a bunch of people up front just kept chanting the long "ooh" background vocal line from "Rebellion (Lies)" -- is there another band where the best-loved hooks are all wordless melodies? I'm sorry I missed the now-famous "secret" second encore, but that's what YouTube is for, innit? (Perhaps Win Butler could take a moment to explain the internets to Keith Jarrett.)
As good as Arcade Fire were, though, James Murphy's LCD Soundsystem totally stole the show. And I say this as someone who is decidedly not a fan of the thumping, relentless four-on-the-floor club music that is the foundation of their sound. On record, this band doesn't do a whole lot for me, but live, drummer Pat Mahoney made me a believer, laying down an inexhaustible stream of perfectly placed hihat sixteenth notes and electro-snare backbeats. Tunes like "Get Innocuous!" made me realize that this band is a lot closer in spirit to my beloved Remain In Light-era Talking Heads than I'd previously given them credit for. "Someone Great" reminds me (in a good way) of a remixed version of Corey Dargel's music. And "Yeah (Crass Version)" distills the anthemic singalong chorus to its purest essence. Their set was so good, I almost didn't mind the coked-up swim team fratboy in front of me trying really hard to jump on my toes.
Blonde Redhead have been around for a while now, but I'd never quite gotten around to checking them out before. This is clearly a big oversight on my part, since they do that languid, stretched-out minor-key artrock thing that always grabs me -- one tune in particular sounded like a stripped-down Sonic Youth/Radiohead hybrid. However, the aforementioned coked-up fratboy and his pals would simply not shut the fuck up during the quiet bits, which tended to spoil the mood a tad. I'm looking forward to hearing them again under better conditions.
So yeah, Les Savy Fav... There's no way to say this without coming across as completely humorless, but... well, apparently at one of their first shows, frontman Tim Harrison -- who at the time, was wearing the emptied-out carcass of a huge stuffed animal -- asked the crowd "Is the shtick too loud?"
The shtick this time started innocuously enough, with Tim throwing dollar-store party favors out into the crowd while the band set up. The rest of the story is probably best told with pictures (see below). Tim's backing band -- and how could they be anything but a backing band, with a frontman like that? -- was soild enough, full of catchy, if familiar-sounding, punkrock hooks. But seriously, it's like they're playing a completely different show from their frontman. If the music was actually integrated into the spectacle (the Industrial Jazz Group know how this is done), then we might have something, but the near-complete disconnect between Tim's outsized antics and the comparatively pedestrian musical accompaniment really started to bug me after a while. If you're going to take it out, guys, then take it out, dammit.
I know this band is beloved and I sound like a total curmudgeon, but still.
Wild Light are a young band from New Hampshire. Clearly, there weren't many people in the crowd who had even heard of these guys before, but they came out strong and rocked hard. Their most memorable tunes were "Fuck California" (which, they observed, "always goes down better on the East Coast") and a sweet Rhodes-driven song I didn't catch the name of. They might have sounded a wee bit green and generic compared to the other bands on the bill, but I gotta respect them for playing their hearts out for a crowd that had only just began to gather.
Many thanks to my concert companion, whose company made the day's events that much more enjoyable.
More pics below the fold...