All Of This Happened While You Were Sleeping

GROUND CONROL TO MAJOR TOM: Arcade Fire, Tower Theater, Last Night


EVA SAYS: The Arcade Fire is currently Canada’s most exciting export, which in another time would have been damning them with faint praise. These days it’s praise of the highest order, especially if you are an indie-rock band. After only two albums, the seven-member collective has positioned itself as a trans-national sensation with their solemn lyrics, bombastic instrumentation and passionate melodies. And still, nobody seems more surprised than the band members themselves. This is true especially of the band-leading songwriting couple Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, who still appear taken aback onstage, as if disbelieving that a room full of people had shown up to see them.

Praising Philadelphia as “the the city where people park their cars in the middle of the fucking road,” Butler traced his familiarity with the city back to the days of the First Unitarian Church. Imagining them crammed into the church basement contrasted sharply with the vision of them fanned out across the comparatively opulent Tower Theatre stage, where five circular screens in a crescent formation stood behind them, displaying real-time footage of band members’ performances as captured by tiny fish-eye cameras. The warped perspective and green night-vision-goggle tint of the visuals only enhanced the music’s power to mesmerize. A majestic, 10-foot pipe organ blew out awe-inspiring gusts of churchy righteousness, while old-timey projector images danced against the Tower’s plush red velvet curtain backdrop, creating the palette and vibe of a circa-’20s European cabaret.

The fact that it was a seated show did not prevent the fans from rushing the stage when Butler urged them to arise and come forth. “Always with the seats. Fuck the fucking seats!” he laughed. With two more musicians recruited for the tour, the grand total of people on stage came to nine. Everyone switched instruments for seemingly every song in a literal game of musical chairs. Members skipped among the guitar, bass, drums, accordion, organs and back again. The band known for using every instrument under the sun did not disappoint as the French horn, megaphone, violin, hurdy-gurdy, xylophone, upright bass, piano and cello were all present and deftly employed. After Butler’s announcement that there were 13 family members in the crowd, it seemed each band member played with an intensity far beyond those of mortal men and women, climaxing with “No Cars Go,” when percussionists hammered on drums until equipment fell over and violinists squeezed hot tears from tightly-closed eyes. And that was just the second song. Grade: A

[Photo by EVA LIAO]

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