Hearing Arcade Fire fill the DAR Constitution Hall with lush instrumentation last Friday was akin to a religious experience for the band’s many devoted fans – and that’s what the Canadian octet was going for.
Or not. It only fits that the stage show for the tour supporting their latest release, Neon Bible, is rife with religious imagery – projections of televangelists, stained-glass windows, and the aforementioned Day-Glo hued Good Book. But religiosity is mocked relentlessly in the album’s lyrics (From “Intervention”: “Working for the church while your life falls apart / Singin’ hallelujah with the fear in your heart”), along with greed, hypocrisy and vanity – topics that Arcade Fire has never shied away from.
When the band took to the stage, frontman and co-founder Win Butler was at the helm, with wife Regine Chassagne at his side. And in most bands, that’s where they would stay. But Arcade Fire, with its 10-member touring orchestra, plays a game of musical chairs on stage, and after opening with “Black Mirror” from their latest CD, the musicians performed a dozen or so switcheroos throughout the show, swapping places and instruments, or just meandering around, banging on anything they could get their hands on. In addition to drums and guitars, there were violins, violas, accordions, a keyboard, French horn, trombone, upright bass, an organ, and even a hurdy-gurdy – a French stringed folk instrument. Each Arcade Fire member is not only a multi-instrumentalist, but a vocalist, as well. They switched and swapped to the tunes of Neon Bible tracks like “No Cars Go,” “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations,” and the new release’s title track, and fed off of the energy of the sold-out crowd.
A third of the way into the concert, though, it was Chassagne’s turn to shine during the upbeat “Haiti,” off the band’s acclaimed 2004 release, Funeral. Butler and the rest of the guys turned their backs and guitars to the audience so that the women of the band – Chassagne, violinist Sarah Neufield, and violist Marika Anthony-Shaw, who joined the group just for the tour – could be the center of attention. Even without the gesture, the women still would have shined. Chassagne, singing about her native country, sung and spun around in a black dress with sequin trim, ending the song collapsed in exhaustion on the stage floor. And never before has a violin been played so skillfully by a musician wearing hot pants and shaking her hips as she ran her bow across the strings.
Not much for stage banter, the band said few words beyond thank yous and gratitude that $1 of every ticket was being donated to a relief fund that benefits Haitians (Butler’s acoustic guitar was inscribed with the words “sak vide pa kanpe,” a Creole saying meaning, “an empty sack cannot stand,” referring to the country’s poverty). And though their stage presence was energetic, it lacked the eccentricity the band was previously known for – at a 2005 9:30 Club appearance, band members donned motorcycle helmets and pounded on them with drumsticks.
Butler was at his most effusive, though, when he realized from the stage that fans were being shooed away from dancing in the aisles of the seated venue. “I apologize to security, but come the fuck down here,” he urged the crowd. “People have to be able to dance to music.” As fans streamed down the aisles, they sang and danced to the beat-heavy “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” and pressed closer to the stage for the standout performance of the night, a compelling “Rebellion (Lies),” where band members wailed into microphones and bullhorns, “Every time I close my eyes / Lies! Lies!”
Concluding with their latest single, “Keep the Car Running,” the band returned to the stage for an encore of “Intervention,” after which Butler announced, “Sing this one for me – the words are pretty easy, you’ll figure them out.” With that, as the band launched into “Wake Up,” the 3,000-some voices launched into the words – a simple chorus of “Oooohhhhhs” – and sounded as lovely as a church choir.