“We haven’t played in forever,” Win Butler told the Colorado crowd on Saturday, the first night of Arcade Fire’s spring tour. The audience was none the wiser. The eight-piece band missed hardly a cue, chord change or head-bob at the 1stBank Center on Saturday — even if the show, itself, lacked the raw energy of past performances.
For Arcade Fire to (mostly) fill the 6,500 capacity arena is an accomplishment, itself. The band, which first played the cavernous Larimer Lounge in the warehouse district while touring behind its masterful debut album, “Funeral,” several years ago, has reached a level of success reserved for so few “indie” acts. Saturday’s show, no doubt made possible by Butler and Co.’s “Album of the Year” trophy at this year’s Grammy Awards, was a strong outing, though it could have been stronger.
New songs from their best-selling 2010 release “The Suburbs” dominated the set list, and fans were forced to wait patiently for glimpses of 2007’s “Neon Bible” and 2004’s “Funeral.” And while inspired takes on “Modern Man,” “Empty Room” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” sounded crisp and refreshing, the bulk of the new material lacked the sense of triumph that justifies Arcade Fire as an arena rock act.
Still, there were more hits than misses on this inaugural night. The stage design — a minimalist take on a drive-in movie lot (or carnival grounds, possibly) — aided to rather than interfered with the complexities of the music. Three large screens displayed roving visuals of winding roads, the night sky and ancient black and white film strips in near-flawless synchronization to the moody music. The multimedia presentation reached its apex when Butler pounded out the honky tonk piano chords of the title-track “The Suburbs” beneath Spike Jonze’s music video of mischeivous teenage boys cruising cul-de-sacs on bicycles in sunny Austin, Tex.
For a band so tethered to the Montreal scene of the last decade, so much of Arcade Fire is rooted in modern Americana. However, rather than nostalgia for western saloons or lonesome highways, the Houston-born Win and bandmate/brother William seem more concerned with the “plastic” vision of the American dream as made famous by films like “The Graduate.” Standing under strings of kitschy used-car-lot-flags, the sprawling group with weird clothes, weirder haircuts and megaphones beckoned the call, “Wake up!”
That song, no doubt receiving the best reception of the night, was an allegory for how a band of outcasts with string instruments and distorted guitars could beat the Nashville machine with proper storytelling of this American moment — as they did at the Grammys in February. And even with its massive audience sing-a-long, “Wake Up” ran a distant second to the transcendent “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” — the first of a three-song sprint that included “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” and “We Used To Wait.”
Los Angeles indie-rock band Local Natives opened the show with an energetic, satisfying set comprised of choice cuts from their debut album “Gorilla Manor.”
Nathan Iverson is a Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb.