Arcade Fire put on a hell of a show. They are surely one of very few current bands with both the personnel and personality to stage a rock show in the round, as they did at Brooklyn’s Grand Prospect Hall last night, on the eve of the release of new album Everything Now. The center-floor set-up included two complete drum kits, congas, and between four and 10 keyboards, depending how you counted. The band attacked it with an infectious energy, amplified further by the presence of Apple Music livestream cameras—one of which operated robotically in the middle of the stage itself, right up until it hit Régine Chassagne in the face with a microphone.
The lead-up to Thursday night’s performance was dominated by a PR scramble over a proposed dress code. The band were quick to disavow it, and did so again from the stage, though their protestations felt a bit futile in the absence of a responsible party. Entering the ritzy Grand Prospect Hall, one can imagine how some particularly fun-hating functionary might conceive of asking attendees to wear long slacks in July: The venue is a beautiful ballroom-sized opera house, bedecked with crystal chandeliers, three-foot candelabras, and nice carpets. Presumably its air conditioning is capable of cooling a few dozen white-tablecloth diners. Arcade Fire were sweating from the first minute they stepped beneath the lighting rig.
The Grand Prospect has an ordinary three-walled stage, too. It lay darkened, curtains half-closed, a silent reminder of how boring some rock shows manage to be. The last time I saw Arcade Fire was in 2008, just after the release of second album Neon Bible; my memory from the cheap seats is of a standoffish crew of musicians seemingly nailed to the spot, and a whole seated venue standing with their arms folded tight. Since then—and since Arcade Fire reinvented themselves as a dance band—they’ve learned how to grab attention: Opening with “Everything Now,” they moved immediately to the sure singalong of “Rebellion (Lies).” Their set included the four already-released Everything Now singles (the title track, “Creature Comfort,” “Signs of Life,” and the Chassagne-led “Electric Blue”) and just one unheard new song, “Chemistry.” They’re still playing “No Cars Go” all these years later, though last night, Win Butler astonished even himself by blanking on the second verse.
In person, the elaborate network of Everything Now promotional in-jokes were visible, but thankfully not overpowering. The band’s logo-emblazoned jackets and Chassagne’s red pleather jumpsuit lent them the aspect of NASCAR drivers, while banners bearing the new songs’ faux-corporate logos hung from the balcony like the inside wall of a racetrack. In one balcony box, a posse of “Chemistry” representatives stood in neon-pink tank tops; across the room were their “Creature Comfort” counterparts, dressed like a softball team. At one point, an incomprehensible mid-song micro-drama culminated with Chassagne ripping up a box of “Creature Comfort” cereal, which is apparently indistinguishable from confetti.
The early reception of Everything Now hasn’t been entirely flattering. (As if in acknowledgment, Butler’s parting words to the crowd were, “Don’t believe everything you read.”) Whatever the new record might lack, the live Arcade Fire still have: immediacy, novelty, excitement, the ability to make a whole room sing “Wake Up” un-self-consciously. In truth, they were never indie rock’s sharpest wits, and we don’t expect them to be. Show me adult malaise and modern passion; show me the sound of Win Butler astride the stage and the railing, one enormous white kiltie boot on either side of the divide.