Arcade Fire
Image via Christian Bertrand / Shutterstock.com

Arcade Fire: Long live rock ‘n’ roll

by Nelson Bae

Arcade Fire, The Forum, August 2, 2014.

Quick. Name three current, “non-catalog” rock ‘n’ roll bands that can sell out an arena (i.e. a catalog band would have its music played on classic rock stations like KLOS 95.5 – think Aerosmith, Eagles, U2, Pearl Jam).

Exactly. It’s hard to name three, isn’t it?

Let me do it for you: Arcade Fire, Muse and The Black Keys. That’s it. That’s the short list.

Dare I say – the cupboards are bare and the future of guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll is bleak, but let’s save the pessimism for later. I’m inspired to write about this past Saturday night’s show.

Ten years ago, the hype surrounding a new Montreal band called Arcade Fire reached explosive levels. Always a sucker for heat-fueled hype, I joined a group of enthusiasts and trekked down to a San Diego club (capacity: 200) called the Casbah to see if this band was for real. From the opening notes of song one, “Wake Up”, I knew I was witnessing something special and triumphant.

When an artist’s performance is worthy of the rampant, preceding hype, it’s akin to finding a diamond in the rough.

Fast forward ten years later and with the release of their fourth album, Reflektor – Arcade Fire has graduated to selling out two nights at the new and improved Forum in Inglewood (more on that later).

For this tour, multi-member Arcade Fire added two Haitian percussionists and two sax players to crowd the stage even further – and the results were spectacular. The band opened with title track “Reflektor” and the audience could immediately feel that the band was being driven by a low-end groove fueled by a pulsating beat of the rhythm section. This segued to “Rebellion (Lies)” (editorial note: this writer’s favorite song) and already the first ten minutes of the show turned into a jubilant crowd sing-a-long. But the pace never slowed – the setlist was chock full of uptempo numbers that had the fans dancing for two solid hours. Even tracks like “Haiti” or “Normal Person” that are borderline somnambulant on record were transformed live into twirling dance numbers or hard-charging, foot-stomping rockers.

The show truly hit its stride with a run of “Ready to Start,” “Tunnels,” “Crown of Love” and the best track of the album “We Exist” (introduced by lead singer Win Butler with a quick “maybe someday we’ll be able to marry who we want” and featuring an all-male dance troupe on the b-stage in the middle of the arena), as each song saw the band up its fervor as if it were on a mission to save rock music from obscurity.

Historically, the band has always found a way to offer a glimpse into its kitschy sense of humor and Saturday night was no different as the encore led off with a battle of the bands sound clash between a giant-headed fake band air guitaring Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In the Name” vs Arcade Fire’s rendition of the Beverly Hills Cop instrumental “Axel F”. The show gloriously closed with the band’s two biggest anthemic numbers – songs that seemed to be written and destined for audience participation in a big, cavernous arena – “Power Out” and “Wake Up”.

Speaking of arenas, my hats off to the Madison Square Garden folks who purchased and re-furbished the Inglewood Forum. The arena has always been known for its muddy sound that always seemed to put a damper on even the best efforts by a top-notch sound man. But now, the sound system has been given a state-of-the-art upgrade and you can actually hear individual instruments over the din of dozens of amps.

It’s hard these days for a rock band. You can’t sell records. Your options of radio promotion are limited because rock stations are fewer and fewer on terrestrial radio. And it’s hard for a rock band to sell 18,000-20,000 tickets to a show (much less two shows) – even in a sprawling, mega-metropolis like Los Angeles. Factor in the macro of so many entertainment options and then consider the competition for concert dollars just this past weekend in L.A. with husband/wife duo Jay-Z & Beyonce doing two nights at the Rose Bowl and 50,000 electronic music revelers at each of two nights of HARD Fest in Whitter. I’m pleasantly shocked that Arcade Fire was even able to sell out two nights. It gives me a glimmer of hope that rock ‘n’ roll can survive in today’s music landscape.

The great bands deserve to thrive and have a lengthy career. If you’re a rock fan, you should support Arcade Fire because they are one of the few worthy of the “great band” nomenclature. Long live rock ‘n’ roll!

Nelson Bae

About Nelson Bae

Nelson is a music supervisor based in Los Feliz, CA. Follow Nelson on twitter @nelrock123

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