Arcade Fire live from Las Vegas

 

Arcade Fire sets the stage big when they perform live. When I saw them in Las Vegas, they had a square stage designed like a boxing ring. The 9 musicians on stage play somewhere between 20 and 30 instruments.  Just 3 weeks after the worst mass-shooting in US history, the Canadian indie-rock band fearlessly took the stage at Mandalay Bay. Lead singer Win Butler offered his condolences to the victims of the horrible attack followed by “f*ck being afraid”.

Arcade Fire neither lacks style nor confidence. In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Butler said, “I feel like we’re one of the best rock bands on Earth now.” The lead singer has also been quoted saying they are one of the best performing bands of all time. Before you dismiss them as crazy, go to one of their shows and then decide.

The squareness of stage meant no front. Arcade Fire was constantly moving around rotating from side to side. They had enough members so that all sides of the stage were always filled. The beauty of this design was it allowed more people to get close to the stage. The constant rotation gave the concertgoers a chance to meet each individual musician, instead of staring at one the entire night.

Opening act Angel Olsen, didn’t have the band members or preparation to fill the stage in the same way. They stuck to one side, and unfortunately my friends and I were on the wrong side. Frustration arose as we could just see their backs. They sounded hollow, as if they weren’t able to fill the entirety of the arena. Had I seen the indie-folk artist in a cozier venue and actually been able to see them, I might have enjoyed the show.

The stage wasn’t the only boxing themed part of Arcade Fire’s performance. As they were entering, an announcer on the overhead speaker stated each musician’s “boxing” record. They walked through the crowd with their pump-up music blaring (“Everything_Now (continued)”), then climbed through the ropes and started into “Everything Now”.

The next hour and a half were awesome. It is pretty obvious when bands love performing. Their passion radiates through the crowd who in turn loves watching them perform. Smiles were visible on the faces of band members Richard Reed Perry and Regine Chassagne. Will Butler is one of the most animated performers I have ever seen. Whether he is banging on a drum or jamming on synth, just watching him will bring you pure joy.

Arcade Fire’s sound doesn’t miss a beat transitioning from recordings to live shows. Balancing that many different musicians and instruments can be difficult but they do it with ease. The music is extremely powerful yet so fine-tuned you can still hear each individual instrument.

The disco balls and strobe lights are programmed beautifully so that the lights portray what the music is playing. There are moments of complete darkness and others when fog is so thick they disappear from view. Light and dark are themes that Arcade Fire loves exploring in their music and they bring that into their live shows.

Their setlist was spread-out across their 5 albums playing at least 3 songs from each. They finish with fan favorite “Wake Up”, and leave the stage with the crowd still singing the chorus. Many concertgoers continued singing as they flooded into the casino. I don’t have the expertise to say if Arcade Fire is one of the greatest performing bands of all time, but it was one of my favorite shows I’ve ever been to.

Album Review – “american dream” by LCD Soundsystem

With Arcade Fire’s attempt to capture the dance floor meeting a divisive audience this summer, it seems only right James Murphy and co. would resurrect LCD Soundsystem from the dead to remind us why they’re king. Unlike Arcade Fire, who only began to experiment with disco in full on their previous album Reflektor (which Murphy helped produce), disco has been part of LCD’s lifeblood since its inception, mixed in a potent cocktail with Murphy’s New Age influences.

But with seven years having passed since LCD’s last album, This Is Happening, you can’t blame someone for wondering if the band can still walk the walk. Rest assured, LCD’s latest release, american dream, is another step forward for the band; it may not be their most confident step forward, but contrary to Murphy’s singing on “how do you sleep”, there are no six steps back to be found on this album.

Even when LCD is taking a step forward, however, Murphy can’t help but look back. In fact, rather than back away from his influences, he doubles down on them in american dream; you’d be forgiven for thinking Robert Fripp had taken over the guitar on the track “change yr mind”, and “other voices” sounds like a discarded track from Talking Head’s Remain in Light. While these accentuated influences are a welcome addition to LCD’s sound, in the case of “other voices” and “change yr mind”, they risk overpowering the band’s own character.

While it would be a stretch to call the two tracks derivative, it’s hard not to see them as the weaker efforts on the album when LCD exceeds in the implementation of Murphy’s influences almost everywhere else. The penultimate track “emotional haircut” is the band’s best utilization of his punk influences to date, building up a raucous finale almost unmatched by any of the band’s previous work, and “call the police”, while maybe one of the best odes to David Bowie ever written (with its oblique reference to the artist’s stay in Berlin), stands on its own as a soaring anthem. “We don’t waste time with love,” Murphy bellows on the chorus, “It’s just death from above.” It’s the kind of gloomy chorus only LCD could make catchy.

When Murphy isn’t overtly looking to the past for inspiration, he pushes the band forward with some of their best music. Sitting in the middle of american dream‘s tracklisting, “how do you sleep” encapsulates LCD’s ability to do more with less. The song lurches forward, seemingly holding back the weight of its own momentum, and when the dance beat finally kicks in, it’s bliss. Equally intoxicating is “tonite”, although its hook, a wet-sounding bass, loses its immediate appeal by the end of the track.

Between tracks like “tonite” and “other voices”, there’s a considerable breadth of music on american dream (which shouldn’t be surprising given that Murphy had about seven years to write the musical ideas that inevitably came to his head). This breadth both bolsters and weakens the album. While it may not have the flow of Sound of Silver’s tracklisting, american dream rewards for demonstrating a band pushing its limits.

Pushing limits makes it hard to land on one’s feet steadily, but LCD Soundsystem, without a doubt, is back on the dance floor, taking one step forward, and two looks back at the sounds that inspire them.

 

Love, Fame and Fortune: Everything Now by Arcade Fire

“I’m in the black again.” Everything Now by Arcade Fire starts with a familiar theme: darkness. Known for their depressing style, the Canadian indie-rock band once again produces a record that fails to be uplifting. Their fifth studio album, released July 28, 2017, provides a new and distinct sound from their previous work. Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk helped produce the album, which is part of the reason for the various upbeat songs and pop sound. The darkness quickly dissipates, transitioning into sounds of money and crowds.

We live in a society driven by consumerism. Numerous people live with the attitude “I need it, I want it, I can’t live without”. It’s easy to grasp the logical impossibility of having everything now, and Arcade Fire is thus critical of such attitude. “Every time you smile it’s a fake. Stop pretending you’ve got everything now,” Win Butler preaches. Much of what we buy won’t make us happier and is probably just useless shit.

The album grows darker and poppier simultaneously. Pop instrumentation is accompanied by lyrics about death. Arcade Fire has often explored existentialism and this album is no different. Despite the lure of fame and fortune, the “cool kids” have “no signs of life.” Boys and girls often “hate themselves” and “dream about dying all the time.” The desire to be popular is often so great that some would rather die than be “penniless and nameless.” By the fourth song we already see conflicting thoughts. Beginning with wanting everything now, Butler now says, “I don’t know what I want…[and] I don’t know if I want it.”

Fear of death is normal which is why so many want to live forever. Arcade Fire represents this through the boy from Neverland that stays young forever, Peter Pan. Butler sings, “we can live, I don’t feel like dying,” but is once again conflicted as he longs for life and love. The lyrics “I can’t live with so much love” tell us that love is the thing that is killing him.

The songs Infinite Content and Infinite_Content serve as an interlude and a divider for the album. These two songs are right in the middle and identical lyrically. However, the sound and tempo drastically change between the two. The first one is fast while the second is slow. This is also how the album is divided. The first half is up-tempo and energetic while the second half is slow and mellow.

Electric Blue, sung by Regine Chassagne, is about a girl in love. With social media and online dating so common, our first impression of someone is often through the electric blue glow of a computer screen. “Cover my eyes electric blue. Every single night I dream about you,” the girl says repeatedly.

Sometimes it seems that love is killing us when other times it is what saves us. Once again, we have conflicting ideas. Referencing earlier lyrics, Butler sings “put your favorite record on baby and fill the bathtub up. You want to say goodbye to your oldest friends.” Although maybe this time death is not the escape. Maybe there is a reason to stay alive. “Maybe there’s a good god, if he made you.” Love can keep someone alive when they feel that there is nothing else worth living for.

No relationship is perfect, and all will face tough times. “I’m never gonna let you go,” and “if you think I’m losing you, you must be crazy.” These are the cries of someone fighting for their love. Through the broken promises and the disapproving parents, “we will find a way to survive.”

“I’m driving home to you… [and] god knows where I’ve been. Officer please, don’t check my breath. That ain’t my only sin.” Not only is he driving drunk, he just committed adultery. The girl is waiting at home, but “maybe we don’t deserve love.” Relationships are not meant to last forever especially when you cheat on your partner. “We can just pretend we’ll make it home again, from everything now.” At the end of the day, we end up alone just trying to get home.

The album ends where it starts. The last song is the same as the first with an added second verse. Everything Now is meant to be played from start to finish and looped. This plays on the ideas of infinity and repetition that are seen throughout the album. Arcade Fire is often regarded as the greatest band to never have a hit song. Their individual songs are not as meaningful out of context from the entire work. If you are looking for a great song off this album you won’t find it. The songs build off of each other and are better when listened to in the order it was intended. The album is focused on love, fame, and fortune in the age of the internet. The use of pop says that they themselves are victims of the very things they are critical of. If nothing less, Everything Now tells a story and shows emotions, which is exactly what music is supposed to do.