Photos: Arcade Fire at the Pepsi Center in Denver (review) - Reverb

Arcade Fire at the Pepsi Center, 4-23-14 (photos, review)

If Win Butler is the frontman or the brain of Arcade Fire, Régine Chassagne is the band’s heart. As a “deathly ill” Butler did his best to sing through some of his more demanding songs at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday, Chassagne charmed and pushed her backing vocals from pleasant embellishments to frontwoman status — picking up the reins like any good band member, partner or wife would do.

Looking like she would work in some Quebecois (Quebecian?) candle shop, Chassagne bounded among the 10-plus musicians on stage, gracefully spinning, flashing bashfully contagious smiles, flicking her arms and cradling the bulk of the vocal work throughout the night. And it was likely because of Butler’s sickness that Arcade Fire debuted “Empty Room” for the first time this tour.

Like the title, Arcade Fire began the track as a spacious country ballad, lightly singing “said your name in an empty room,” as the melody slipped through the clearings. Then, as the crowd began to recognize the track, the band kicked the song to full speed, pounding into swirling synths, cymbals and a punk-classic beat all around Chassagne’s vocals. But instead of taking an innocent, almost lost quality as it does in the recorded track, this live version had Chassagne center stage, owning the moment for the first time this tour.

There was a sense that — because of Butler’s unfortunate health problems — Denver was getting to see a unique side of Arcade Fire. There might not have been a surprise appearance of Blondie’s Debbie Harry (which happened at Coachella) or a full-strength band, but this was something organic and improvisational. Arcade Fire was forced into a creative corner, and it was a shame there weren’t more people there to see it.

At its peak, the show was at-best two-thirds full. Before the night’s closing song, “Wake Up,” pounds of confetti fell on vacant seats. From the floor you could clearly see three figures dancing alone in section 330 up in the nosebleeds. They used the whole space to their advantage, flailing arms, jumping from seat to seat, without a care that they were somewhat alone and far away from where the confetti had just landed. It leads to an interesting discussion of where this band is at in its career: Arcade Fire can headline Coachella, win Grammys, command headlines and hit No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200, but can’t play the Pepsi Center without its tickets becoming a Groupon deal? More than anything it speaks to the disappointing booking. The band would have easily sold out Red Rocks, a venue that would have bolstered Arcade Fire’s complex sound and catered to their more audiophile fan-base.

But the empty seats didn’t matter — at least as far as anyone at the show was concerned. Even a decade ago this band’s music was made to fill arenas. Butler prefaced “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” from “Funeral,” Arcade Fire’s debut, by telling the crowd he wrote the song when he was 18 years old and would need help singing because he’s sick. Given new life with Arcade Fire’s larger touring band, each build, piano run and yell felt bigger while at the same time as intimate as it must have when kid-Butler wrote it.

Tracks from the band’s most recent two releases held up alongside the earlier material in this arena setting. To close the main set, Chassagne once again owned the show with “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” She appeared at the soundboard in the center of the arena to sing “Orpheus.” And as the band finished another run of the verse and a quick song break, she casually made her way back to the main stage, taking the microphone with a skip, just in time for her vocals on “Sprawl II.”

As the band took its break, only one question remained: How would Arcade Fire give a nod to Colorado music? Throughout the tour the group has brought a fake band onto its “b-stage” to play a track that paid homage to a local artist. We had fun guessing who it would be, and threw around ideas such as DeVotchKa, John Denver and Earth, Wind & Fire. Part of me was hoping they would pull out something as obscure as the Apples in Stereo, but they ended up choosing the John Denver-written “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” which awkwardly transitioned into “Normal Person.”

Ending the night with masks, the aforementioned confetti, “Here Comes the Night Time,” a cover of Ramones “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement” and “Wake Up,” Arcade Fire had proved its versatility and resilience. Given ticket sales and Butler’s health, this wasn’t the ideal situation for the band’s first arena show in the Rocky Mountain region. Yet, proving that it deserves to move to the next level, Arcade Fire took the punches, and even at 75 percent of their normal product, this was a show worthy of a Coachella headlining act.

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    I think you are being very generous. The sound was muddy, Win was clearly not feeling well, and the band seemed tired. I trust many readers were fortunate enough to see their set at the Broomfield Event Center (or whatever it was called then) for the “Suburbs” tour, where we we all saw the true magic of a very good band. Last night was a disappointment.

    • EP

      Agreed. But that’s the Pepsi Center for you. The sound quality in that place is just plain bad even if you have decent seats. I have yet to hear show there with quality sound there except maybe Bob Seger.

      But Arcade Fire was still entertaining. They put on a great show even with the crappy sound. I’m glad I went to see them but I’ll pass next time if they come to the Pepsi Center. I doubt I’ll spend that kind of money to see a show there again.

    • Matt Miller

      Arcade Fire at half-strength and in the Pepsi Center still beats quite a few live performances. With any lesser band this might have been a complete disaster. It’s impressive they were able to hold it together how they did (thanks in large part to Régine).

      • LHOOQ

        I guess I respectfully disagree. AF has the ability to really “lift” an
        audience; take us all to a “higher” place, and I didn’t see that happen
        at all last night. Witness, for example, how relatively staid
        “Rebellion (Lies)” came off at this gig, a song that normally leaves
        audiences breathless.

        • Matt Miller

          Essentially, you have the choice to compare Arcade Fire to Arcade Fire or compare Arcade Fire to every other band.

    • MC

      Totally agree. I really think that if Win was full strength, he could have held the crowd better. This paled greatly to the show in Broomfield on the Suburbs tour. Still a decent show.

  • Alex

    FYI: The confetti was during “Here Comes the Night Time,” not during “Wake Up.”

  • Mike McDaniel

    The empty seats do matter because they show the band should not be in a venue that large. This is a good thing, because Pepsi Center sucks for shows, and as much as I would have liked to see them there was no way I was going there. They should have stuck with a venue more their size – like I suppose 1st Bank, although that place isn’t much better than PC – or even do 2 nights at The Fillmore.

  • mondogarage

    ” the band’s first arena show in the Rocky Mountain region” – categorically incorrect, unless you think 1st Bank Center is a mere nightclub.

    • Matt Miller

      Technically, yes, but this was speaking more toward the venue size: about 18,000 at Pepsi compared to 6,500 at 1stBank. Those are two vastly different types of venue, but thanks for the clarification.

      • jimmy

        “but thanks for the clarification”….what kind of passive agressive BS is that? So unprofessional. You better grow some thicker skin.

        • Matt Miller

          Thanks for the advice, Jimmy.

        • Matt Miller

          No disrespect intended, Jimmy, but thanks for the advice.

  • joe willy.

    I’ve been to a few shows at Pepsi and I really think it matters where you sit as far as sound quality. I think in the bowl behind the soundbooth always works better because you are hearing closer to what the booth is adjusting for. I liked the pasty (ier), sweaty (ier), Win holding the mic like a crutch. His voice was fatigued but still great in quality. That was my fourth AF show and it still punched me in the face.Even with the juiced up effects and lighting I still feel the band has the humble quality I loved when I saw them at Larimer Lounge right after Funeral came out.

    • LHOOQ

      I guess I respectfully disagree. AF has the ability to really “lift” an audience; take us all to a “higher” place, and I didn’t see that happen at all last night. Witness, for example, how relatively staid “Rebellion (Lies)” came off at this gig, a song that normally leaves audiences breathless.

      • joe willy

        Was definitely the most bro’ed Arcade Fire audience I’ve been to. GA was not and was having a good time. If your section was un-liftable, that sucks. Denver audiences can be talkie and inattentive, and arena audiences aren’t the hardcore concert heads, but I wouldn’t equate that to the set performed.

    • incredimarc

      They put down the divider curtain for Sade last year, and that space difference made for much improved sound for sure. Yeah, the other thing that goes into sound at an arena is accounting for bodies absorbing volume. Empty seats means a lot more bouncing around and mixed signals.

  • Winston Smith

    So I saw them a couple of weeks ago in Austin where they played an outdoor gig at the formula one speedway. The sound was better there but the crowd was terrible. The crowd at Pepsi last night had far more energy (at least upfront in GA where I was) and I was not at all disappointed. Well except for Kid Koala, I can go the rest of my life without hearing that again!

    As far as the Pepsi Center goes for a music venue, that was my first and last show there. The sound quality was terrible and it wasn’t the sound engineer’s fault the place is definitely a sports first venue. Hope Arcade Fire does Red Rocks next time.

    • incredimarc

      Yep! I was up front the whole time and the sound was never an issue. The audience was awesome too, if you don’t count the bros trying to crowd surf for the first time during slow songs in front of their terrible girlfriends. I guess that’s the affluence filter of the ticket price showing a little too. Some folks who go to very few concerts had kind of a strange experience to figure into their show etiquette learning curve.

  • johnnie b

    my first AF concert and was not the least bit disappointed…in fact a little worn out by the end from bouncing and grooving. If that was Win after serious illness then I really can’t wait until the next time they come around. I had no problem with the sound and thought it came through as expected. Is Regine the happiest woman on the planet…damn she’s great. I remember seeing her when they won the grammy a couple yrs ago and thinking she was out of place…then I bought the albums and now after seeing AF live agree she is integral to the chemistry and sound. Was happy they hit all the songs on Reflector disc1 and thought Normal Person was fantastic, that tune rocks. Song selection was just right but really really wanted antichrist from neon bible…understand that song didn’t fit the shows mold though. Hope these guys have many many more albums waiting to be realized.

  • KentuckyChunder

    I was on the floor 20 yards from stage and thought the set was fine. of course it’s all relative – the Pepsi Center generally sucks. they sounded better at Red Rocks with LCD Soundsystem circa ’07. they sounded even better 10 yrs ago at Gabe’s Oasis in Iowa City in front of 300 ppl. still worth seeing them no matter the venue, imo.

  • Leighton

    First and last show at the Pepsi Center. I was directly behind the sound board, but still the higher vocal range notes developed a horrific resonance in that building and blanketed every other sound. I would love to see Arcade Fire again in a place with a better sound system and better acoustics. And yeah the place felt empty. Too bad. It was an unexpected treat to hear Kid Koala- he’s a respected genius on the tables.

  • Kristy Gamagoochi

    I have to say, that even though poor Win Butler was clearly sick and struggling, the show was great. There was still great energy, and I agree that Chassagne did a wonderful job carrying the bulk of the performance for her sick hubby. Great show, looking forward to seeing them again.

  • GK

    It was my first time seeing Arcade Fire and it will definitely not be my last. I was standing in the very front row against the stage, and from where I was, the sound was good. I danced the night away with my best friends and couldn’t tell Win was sick until he told us. As said by a commenter below, if this is Arcade Fire on a weak night, I can hardly wait to see them at 100%. I was really thrilled that they played Intervention–was not expecting that! Bummer that the venue was not full–I was shocked that it didn’t sell out, but from where I was it didn’t matter because all I could see was the band. Love Arcade Fire forever. <3