Arcade Fire is not so much a band these days as a weather pattern. Riding the jet stream created by the release last week of its third album, The Suburbs, the Montreal collective seems at this stage capable of changing the temperature, humidity and even barometric pressure wherever they set foot.
And on a muggy Sunday night, playing to a crowd of more than 20,000 on a vast expanse of Chicago's Grant Park known (coincidentally) as Butler Field, Arcade Fire ended Lollapalooza 2010 with an exclamation point.
At the finish, fans weren't merely applauding the ma-and-pa outfit fronted by Win Butler and his wife Régine Chassagne. They were bowing, palms thrust forward. And hundreds took the concert to streets, singing the "Whoa-oh" chorus of closer "Wake Up" and they marched down Monroe Avenue past the Art Institute of Chicago toward the train stops.
In an era of compartmentalized tastes and digitized relationships, Arcade Fire has found universality in their hymns to love, understanding, and emotional truth -- and the way they are conveyed is almost anti-modern. Possibly the loudest sing-along of the band's electric 90-minute performance Sunday came during "Intervention," where Butler espouses the simplest of commonalities: "Every spark of friendship and love / will die without a home."
Neither was in jeopardy of expiring Sunday, as Arcade Fire unleashed a remarkable display of energy, virtuosity and humility, and fans responded by digging deep into their own reserves. "The last day of a festival, people are usually burned out," Butler said an hour into the set. "You guys are pacing yourself well."
If the band seemed to be testing the waters with "Ready to Start," the evening's second song, "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)," proved the accelerant, with its Talking Heads-like reprimand, "C'mon Alex, you can do it." It was off to the races from there, with expansive numbers serenading crowd-surfers and others sending fans swaying as if on unsteady seas.
When Butler went to the piano for the title track off the new album, it proved a remarkable display of mass intimacy, if there is such a thing. And the frontman seemed taken aback by the reaction.
"I can't tell you how intimidating it is to get in front of this many people and play new songs," he said. "And you guys are singing along.".
Predictably, the old stuff turned the crowd's voices toward the heavens, especially the medley conjoining the drama-drenched songs "Neighborhood #3 (Power's Out)" with "Rebellion (Lies)." But the new "Month of May" was even more muscular, inducing a similarly rousing response."
"Don't ever let New York tell you you don't have the best fucking city," Butler said afterward, "because you guys are awesome."
And, perhaps having heard the bombast from the south end of Grant Park, he added, "And thank you for choosing our band over Soundgarden."
Shouldn't have been a contest.
Ready to Start
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
No Cars Go
Crown of Love
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
We Used to Wait
Neighborhood #3 (Power's Out)
Month of May
Keep the Car Running