Sketches: Wake Up

(‘Tis been quite a long time since I last posted. I’m not entirely sure I have regular readers yet, but in case there are any of you out there, sorry for not writing anything for a few weeks.)

So last night I went to see Arcade Fire’s concert in Phoenix. It was kind of a last-minute decision…I had no idea they were coming until Monday. Monday night I thought about it, and since I had the money for a ticket, and I’d missed all the great concerts I wanted to go back in the fall, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to go to this one on kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. Wednesday morning I bought my ticket, I hurriedly arranged transportation and everything, and thus yesterday evening I was on my way to see Arcade Fire.

I’m not a huge rock-concert guy. In fact…before last night, I’d only been to one, and it wasn’t entirely my choice of band (it was Rush, a band my dad absolutely LOVES and I’ve grown to love as well, even though I don’t really listen to a lot of their songs on my own that much). Rush is an absolutely terrific band, and it was a great night that night (even including the fact that we got stuck in huge traffic afterwards because there was a crazy shooting next door…), but…it was kind of more ‘spectacle’ than ‘musical experience’ for me. Like it was outstanding music (and there were a lot of cool moments…Neil Peart’s epic drum solo, for example), but the whole rock-concert atmosphere (beers, the outdoor thing, and potential drugs??) kind of took center stage a bit.

Which come to think of it, makes it kind of interesting that I threw myself so quickly into the decision to go to the concert last night, especially since I’ve only been a big fan of Arcade Fire for less than a year. (I decided to check out their latest album, “The Suburbs,” back when it came out last summer, and I fell madly in love, even though I had tried seeing if I liked their music years ago, and wasn’t impressed. Weird.) I guess I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, since Arcade Fire’s music isn’t entirely conventional rock by any means.

Anyways, I got inside the building right at the time the concert was supposed to start, and after I wended my way through the crowd, I started to hear something familiar. A little something like this…

Yep, that’s right. Local Natives (coincidentally enough, the subject of the second artist spotlight here on Harmony Avenue), a band I already knew and loved, was opening for Arcade Fire, something which I totally had no idea about. Ultra score. They played about half of their debut album, and it was awesome. So awesome. The band totally got into it, and even though people were trickling in (and all the people not in the pit were sitting down), they still kept the energy in the room at a pretty fun level. The crowd loved them, and I was already having a blast.

And then later came Arcade Fire…and that’s where the magic started. I thought about making this more of a concert review-type post originally…but I couldn’t really think of a way to approach that angle without it turning into a lovefest. They started off with an interesting video opening featuring a musical number from an old movie, with a woman singing about May…and it segued into a song from “The Suburbs,” naturally “Month of May.” It’s one of their hardest-rocking, kind of cacophonous songs, and it started off the night on a very high-energy note.

And things just kept getting better from there. I totally have their setlist open right next to me, but I’m not going to just go through all the songs, but give kind of a more general feel, with some song mentions thrown in. The atmosphere was just…electric. Maybe it’s because it was indoors, or because I haven’t gone to rock concerts that often and thus this was a different experience for me, or maybe it was just adrenaline kicking in since I wasn’t on much sleep…but the energy in the room felt special, exhilarating. Win (Butler, of course one of the lead singers of the group) commanded the stage, but it never felt like he was doing something manufactured or affected. At the same time, though, even though Arcade Fire’s music is kind of introspective in some ways, he never came off as shy or depressing or introverted. It was the perfect balance of confident and free, and calm and unassuming. Meanwhile, Regine (Chassagne, the other lead singer and Win’s wife) had this kind of earthy, uninhibited free-spirit persona on the stage that was riveting to watch. During the songs she fronted (“Haiti” and “Sprawl II,” which closed the encore, were two of them), she would dance during the instrumental parts of the songs, and it would be a spirited, unique kind of movement that you really couldn’t take your eyes off of. When she was singing (whether lead or backup), you could see the wild passion in her eyes. It definitely added to the performances. The same went for the rest of the band…you could tell they were totally and completely into the music and the whole experience.

Like I said earlier…there was just a really cool atmosphere. Everyone was getting in the music…bobbing their heads, dancing, singing along (I couldn’t always tell if they were, since it was so loud, but looking at a few YouTube recordings afterwards last night, it was very clear a bunch of people knew all the words)…normal rock concert fare, but with a different undertone to it, almost. It was powerful and uplifting and just…wow.

Seeing as I’d only heard a little more than one album of Arcade Fire’s music, there were a fair amount of songs I’d never heard that popped up throughout the concert. I was kind of surprised to see that every single song worked extremely well in a large venue setting…it filled up the theatre (which wasn’t, say, arena-size, but was still pretty large) and then some. Even though Arcade Fire’s songs aren’t quite happy-go-lucky, peppy material, they still brought a huge amount of electricity (sorry to use that term again, but it fits well) to the room. It was pure sonic bliss, and some of the best kind of music for a live concert setting. By the time they got to “Wake Up” at the end, one of their traditional closers…me and everyone else were so into the music you couldn’t have gotten us out of it. Everyone was smiling, clapping, cheering, belting out the lyrics at the top of their lungs…an amazing feeling. The three encore numbers they did afterwards were just as exciting.

So maybe this wasn’t any different than your typical rock concert, you could argue. I’m sure there are a LOT of bands that could create this same type of setting. Regardless of that, though, I think that an experience like this…one that I still can’t stop thinking about, one that was worth the money I spent on the ticket, the 2 hours I spent standing on my feet and moving to the music like the awkward person that I am, and so, so, SO much more…needs to be celebrated and cherished. I took a listen to the songs I’d heard for the first time at the concert afterwards on YouTube (the original studio versions)…and even though they all sounded amazing, after seeing and hearing all of those songs firsthand, in a sonically expansive live setting, it just wasn’t the same.

You can’t have musical moments like this every day. It’ll probably be a long time before I’m able to go to another Arcade Fire show, and when that happens, it will be completely different. So in essence, this was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing in some ways, which is kind of crazy to think about. I’m completely grateful that I got to have that kind of an experience, and to take a break from my usual concert-going fare (jazz and singer-songwriter-ness, mostly) was very refreshing. Even though the band doesn’t write much ‘happy’ stuff, per se…I couldn’t help but feel uplifted afterwards. It brought me joy, even if the music was deep and reflective.

I’ve been thinking about this post since last night, and it kind of turned out a bit different from what I planned it to be, but there you go. If you haven’t seen Arcade Fire live, I highly recommend it. (And if you haven’t checked out their music in the first place, I highly recommend that as well. Look past the “hipster band” label they’ve been slapped with and dive into their songs. They’re energetic and definitely rock-driven, but written with such care and beauty that they’re anything but boring or pretentious.) And now for something completely different…here’s a photo I took after the concert with the lead singer of Local Natives, the amazing Taylor Rice. Note how my eyes are so attractively closed, and the random Live Nation lady in the background as well. 🙂 See you soon with another new post (I won’t leave this blog alone for so long anytime soon!), and many thanks for reading.

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