It had been nearly 20 years since Arcade Fire played the Bowery Ballroom on Friday night, and a concert wasn’t enough—they added a parade in, too. The Canadian indie-rockers returned with the cinematic sound and infectious energy that helped cement their fanbase when they began 21 years ago. Truthfully, at the New York City venue, it could have been 2004 again.
While The Lower East Side show was a surprise, it wasn’t exactly random. Last week, the band began teasing a comeback through had cryptic messages—postcards and online ads. Arcade Fire revealed on Thursday they would be releasing their first new album in five years, WE. Alongside it, they debuted its lead single “The Lightning I, II,” a ballad-turned-heart-racing anthem whose shout choruses signaled a return to form for the group. It was also a benefit for Ukraine, where barcode-emblazoned flyers around the venue encouraged a “pay what you can” model.
With their show, Arcade Fire brought the fiery energy of early 2000s indie-rock back to the Bowery Ballroom. Under a color-changing mirrorball and a floating eye, they made it clear they might start with a whisper, but they’d end with a scream. A slow-burning piano-driven opener “Age of Anxiety” set the tone for what would be a nostalgic, career-spanning set from the seven-piece band. In-between blistering performances of “Ready to Start” and “Neighborhood #1,” the group delivered a haunting rendition of “The Suburbs” where lead vocalist Win Butler notably paid homage to the isolation of the past two years of the pandemic by changing the lyrics from “And all of the walls from that they built in the seventies finally fall” to “And all of the walls from that they built in 2020 finally fall.”
During the set, the band was up to their old and new tricks: Butler was jumping on amps, vocalist Régine Chassagne delivered a light show and interpretive dance and everyone played instrument roulette. Butler also capitalized on the venue’s intimate size, trying to connect with the audience as much as possible. That meant jumping into a visibly emotional crowd during “Afterlife” and later traipsing throughout the venue during a disco-tinged transition from “Reflektor” to the band’s new song “Rabbit Hole,” which Butler dedicated to David Bowie after describing how they first met at Bowery Ballroom. In an encore, Arcade Fire debuted the heartfelt “The Lightning I, II” to a New York crowd over a twinkling piano before making the floor shake with the group’s bombastic hit “Rebellion (Lies).”
And just when you thought the show was over, Arcade Fire revealed they had other plans. During their closer, the sparkly, sweeping “Wake Up,” the group carried the chorus off the stage and out of the venue with a parade outside of the Bowery Ballroom’s doors. With Butler serving as the pied piper, Arcade Fire was lit up by camera flashes as fans flooded the sidewalk to document the vagabonds. As the audience stopped traffic and rushed to keep up with Arcade Fire, they marched beyond Delancey St. while belting the track’s hopeful chorus alongside bongos and horns—bringing magic back to the streets of New York.
Arcade Fire Bowery Ballroom Setlist:
Age of Anxiety I
Ready to Start
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)
Keep the Car Running
The Lightning I
The Lightning II