The Arcade Fire is the greatest arena rock band on the planet
The bar across the street from the Pepsi Center is a menagerie. The Arcade Fire show has just ended, and I am talking to a woman named Sarah who is dressed as a blackbird. Her husband, Tom, is wearing a fire-print onesie and a furry hood with ears. He has a gold plastic sign hanging around his neck that says, "HOT PUSSY." Sarah made Tom's costume last year for a Phish concert. That went just okay. There was a costume contest, and Tom got 63 votes. The winner got thousands.
Jim Bricker for Houston Press. The Arcade Fire earlier this month in Houston.
Tom and Sarah mostly go to jam-band shows, but they like the Arcade Fire. When they went to buy their tickets for tonight's show, they saw the red notice below the price, which appears when you buy tickets for any stop on this tour: "Please wear formal attire or costume." So they did.
"At first it seemed stupid," says Sarah, "but it was fun." They are better prepared than most of the people at the bar. Tom may not have made much noise at the Phish show, but here he's such a novelty that, despite the general prevalence of costumes/formalwear, people are coming up and asking to take pictures with him. Jam bands are way ahead of indie rock when it comes to audience participation.
Still, everyone agrees that the formal attire/costume directive is an attempt to avoid the clock-punching sameness that makes many arena shows so hollow. "Hello, insert city name! You're looking wonderful tonight!" the pop star might as well literally be saying.
And here we are now, in the bar across the street, because the Arcade Fire has just played the kind of show that cannot be the end of the night. The guy sitting across the aisle from me was technically dressed up. He wore a fat tie and mismatched shirt with colored pants and a thin leather jacket. His hair was unruly. He would have been met with uncomfortable sidelong glares in, say, a country club. But not at this show. At this show, he did not dance so much as speak in tongues, and the people around him either followed his lead or looked on with sincere admiration. The Arcade Fire is well equipped to accompany this sort of rapture. As the great Chris Gray noted in his review of Houston's Reflektor tour stop:
Some bands build songs out of a handful of chord changes, but Arcade Fire prefers to start with a simple musical figure -- a rhythm, a riff, a two- or three-note bass line -- and compound it to the Nth degree. On the intensity scale, they tend to start at "up" and finish somewhere in the stratosphere.
"It was life-affirming," says Hot Pussy Tom. So whether it was the dress code or the music or simply the fact that this is a band that feels concerned about potentially alienating its fans in the arena setting, the Arcade Fire has suceeded in making every show special.
It's a leap from "life-affirming" to "greatest arena rock band on the planet," I admit. And maybe that title is faint praise anyway, in an era when there are basically an infinite number of bands and the social media necessary to build a culture around every tiny star. Maybe you could replicate the experience of seeing the Beatles at Red Rocks if BuzzFeed put together a bunch of wide-eyed animals with health problems to poke away at toy instruments.