Arcade Fire & Phantogram 10.15.17
Words and Photos by Erica Garvey
Starting from a literal ring of the bell, Arcade Fire’s performance at KeyArena in Seattle was a series of imaginative contrasts and anomalies, engaging yet subtle by arena show standards.
From a square stage in the middle of the arena floor, dreamy-pop favorites Phantogram opened to a small but enthusiastic fanbase as the tardy Sunday night concert-goers trickled in. Characterized by slow drawn-out vocals over dancy, driving guitar riffs, the songs laid out by the four touring members had a slightly more down-to-earth sound than the recorded versions. Phantogram closed with “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” before turning the room over to the headliner.
Ropes popped up at edges of the stage, converting the space into a boxing ring (hence the previously mentioned bell to start the “fight”). While a pre-recorded track of “Everything Now (Continued)” played, Arcade Fire’s nine touring members strutted out to images flashing on large overhead screens highlighting their mostly successful stats (“Wins: Non-stop,” “One shocking Oscar loss”...). This would be off-putting, except the band’s five studio albums have all been nominated for the Grammy Awards’ Alternative Album of the Year, along with their Album of the Year win for 2010’s The Suburbs. They are allowed a little conceit.
The musicians took their positions, mostly on all edges of the stage facing outward to the crowd 360 degrees around. Essentially each band member looked as though they were having their own private party with the audience. At any given time, one to three people were playing from a round rotating dais at the center of the stage that had two full drum sets and a plain old piano (the piano being perhaps the greatest example of the aforementioned anomalies).
Arcade Fire launched into two songs from their newest album, Everything Now (“Everything Now” and “Signs of Life”) and then followed up with two fan favorites, “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Here Comes the Night Time.” The boxing ring ropes came down as the band segued into “Haiti,” amid a very brief diatribe against the U.S. president from frontman Win Butler, quickly followed by praise for Seattle as “such a music town.” In contrast to the boxing theme, Butler periodically interrupted the music to talk about peaceful subjects: welcoming immigrants; support for the non-profit Partners in Health; and, prior to playing “The Suburbs,” his appreciation for Prince and David Bowie “reaching us out in the suburbs.”
The sound of the songs was generally in line with the album versions, but the live performance was still worth a trip to the somewhat sound-challenged KeyArena. These talented, trained musicians seem perfectly in sync with each other, though the number of humans and instruments moving rapidly around stage gives a constant sense of impending chaos. Blink mid-song and nearly everyone is on a new instrument: all of the usual rock instruments, plus things like xylophone, keytar...even a collection of wine and Absolut bottles during “We Don’t Deserve Love” in the encore.
The disco-influenced sounds of the eight Everything Now tracks played is a welcome addition to the band’s setlist. Nearly every song, old and new, builds one layer at a time, sometimes taking up to two minutes to get all the instruments fired up. Arcade Fire plays alternative rock and roll, but it is difficult to keep them squarely in that category given the quasi-orchestral song arrangements and a small museum’s worth of instruments they employ in any given song. The band that is so tough to put into a box roped themselves into a boxing ring. It is unclear exactly who or what they are fighting, but I’ll put my money on Arcade Fire every time.
Setlist: Everything Now, Signs of Life, Rebellion (Lies), Here Comes the Night Time, Haïti, No Cars Go, Electric Blue, Put Your Money on Me, Neon Bible, Infinite Content, My Body Is a Cage, Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), The Suburbs, The Suburbs (Continued), Ready to Start, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), Reflektor, Afterlife, Creature Comfort, Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Encore: We Don’t Deserve Love, Everything Now (Continued), Wake Up