The ultra-ambitious and utterly magnificent Arcade Fire took it to church and set the rafters alight for the first date of their two-night stand at New York City’s venerable Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Just three albums into their – dare I say, worshipped – career, and the Garden is the only room left in town for this multi-instrumentalist Montreal collective to play. Along for the ride was Arcade Fire associate/ violinist Owen Pallett and fellow indie stalwart quartet Spoon.

Spoon frontman Britt Daniel clad in all-white like a far calmer Andrew W.K., brought plenty of groove and attitude to their support slot, opening with a delicate “Me and the Bean” from 2001’s Girls Can Tell, before tearing into crowd favorites such as “The Underdog,” “Stay Don’t Go,” “The Ghost of You Lingers,” from 2007’s critically acclaimed Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, “You in Reverse,” “I Turn My Camera On,” and “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb.”

It was only Tuesday, of course, that The Suburbs was released, but Wednesday was not about exploring the melancholy of a childhood spent languishing in a fenced-in beige Babylon and the darkness at the edge of town for Arcade Fire; this was a full-on revival of such elegance and artistry, it’s a wonder the nine-piece didn’t levitate off the arena stage and into the section of Heaven reserved for Bono and his ego.

But enough of the U2 talk, and all the reasons that the Arcade Fire have assuredly completed their ascent to (indie) keepers of the torch of U2’s unforgettable fire. This type of majestic, sweeping minor fall and major lift of emotion, and the considerable weight and esteem of the Canadian group’s material is reason enough to believe. The sincerity with which they do it is just icing on the cake.

Kicking off with Suburbs post-punk highlight “Ready to Start,” with its talk of blood-sucking businessmen before strolling through Funeral’s “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” featuring a pixie-esque Régine Chassagne resplendent in a silver sequined dress, it was clear early on in the show that Arcade Fire came to play for keeps, and the 20,000 hearts and minds they walked away with almost two hours later were happy to follow. Neon Bible’s “No Cars Go” found amiable frontman Win Butler atop the monitors and stretched out over the front row, fully embodying the enviable heroics the band excels at. This was not to be a night of bemoaning the death of loved ones and life’s ambitions; for even the most emotionally devastating material such as “Haiti,” the grand exhale of “The Suburbs,” and the gorgeous slow burn of “Crown of Love” became redemptive celebrations of spirit and the importance and power of resilience in the face of crippling disappointment and loss. Survival over self-defeat.

Rousing set highlights included “Neighborhood #3 (Power Lines),” with Butler egging on the audience calling the sold-out New York crowd “the biggest shit-talkers in the world,” a glorious “Rebellion (Lies),” a raucous “Month of May,” the award-worthy, addictive disco decadence of “Sprawl II” and set closer “Wake Up,” which, despite the rumors that frequent live guest David Bowie would make an appearance, was the only triumphant altar call the tireless group needed.

Arcade Fire is one of the best bands on the planet right now, and although their self-possessed work ethic and confidence might lead one to believe they agree, the sheer force of their spirit and passion is enough to save a life. If that’s not a wake-up call I don’t know what is.

–Carrie Alison, Photos by Jeffre Dene

 
  1. [...] in a fenced-in beige Babylon and the darkness at the edge of town for Arcade Fire; this was a full-on revival of such elegance and artistry, it’s a wonder the nine-piece didn’t levitate off the arena stage [...]