I have basically remained mum on the Arcade Fire since the release of their epic suburban opus this summer. That’s because I sort of lost touch with all of my first favorite indie bands. Everybody raved about The Suburbs and I just believed them that it was good, and I suppose the charts weren’t lying either. I liked what I heard, I saw the “We Used to Wait” video, it made me super nostalgic, but I guess I was too deep into lo-fi land this summer and I sort of doubted that the Arcade Fire could tell me anything revelatory about the suburbs than I didn’t already know after years and years of firsthand experience.
But they came to Madrid last weekend, and I just figured why not? A weekend jaunt fell through last-minute and I have been doing a really good job of missing every other band I have wanted to see here. So I scoured the internet for tickets that didn’t cost €100, and after a couple of setbacks, secured them 2 hours before showtime. Phew! Spain could really use a Craigslist though, it would make everyone’s lives so much easier.
We arrived at the Palacio de Deportes (that literally translates to Palace of Sports, but really it’s just a gigantic arena), just in time to see Fucked Up take the stage. They were definitely there to entertain and shirtless Damian Abraham, irreverent as always, jumped into the crowd to scream in everyone’s faces and take pictures with a few hardcore fans, occasionally shouting “Muchos gracias!” which caused my super grammar-conscious friend who went with me to cringe on a few occasions. I definitely felt remiss that I am not at all acquainted with their discography, but it was definitely refreshing to hear some punk rock after months of only hearing music you’d be most likely to fist pump to.
After a seemingly endless wait that we used to observe the patrons of the show (basically every bespectacled, plaid indie person in Madrid!) and Spanish concession techniques (vendors walking around with keg backpacks!!), the Arcade Fire came onstage and kicked off what I feel was basically a greatest hits kind of set with “Ready to Start.” Appropriate, no? But they just blew through song after song at top volume, so much more epic than on the records. Part of me wants to say that it sounded just like the records, but that’s not true at all. It sounded better. Everything was so much more captivating and after every song we asked ourselves, what could they possibly do next to top this?
The Spaniards were really into it too. They knew every word and every vocal hook. Looking down on the floor, it was just a sea of people waving their hands around in unison and jumping up and down like there was no tomorrow. It must have paid off, because Win Butler said we were the best audience ever (I know, I know, of course he said that) but at least he had some solid basic Spanish skills.
Overall, the show was ridiculously energetic, with all band members jumping around incessantly, just beating their instruments like crazy, constantly switching off. The undisputed star of the show was Régine Chassagne, who absolutely killed it on “Sprawl II” and “Haiti” and did not stop moving once while she was on that stage. When she wasn’t singing, she was playing accordion or drums or piano or tambourine, or just spinning around or ribbon dancing. Of course.
Win Butler also held his own, of course, military haircut and all. His voice powered through the arena through the mediocre sound to deliver every note of every song just like you’d want to hear it. Complete intensity, but you could tell he was so grateful for the overwhelming response from the 15,000-odd people. He was not at a loss for stage banter, either. He spurred an arena-wide singalong of that “Ole, ole, oleeee” sports song you always hear Spaniards singing after asking if we should have all been at a football game. Then said we should just channel that “sports bullshit energy” into some rock ‘n roll music. He also took an opportunity right before launching into “The Suburbs” to apologize for the chain restaurants that have found their way to Europe. Finally! I never really saw the need for a TGI Friday’s on the main drag in Madrid, personally…”The Suburbs” was another highlight of the set, with Win banging away on the piano while the footage of the new video, which had just premiered the day before, played in the background.
So any skepticism I had previously about the Arcade Fire has been successfully laid to rest. Now I completely understand why people go crazy for them and why they are one of the most successful bands in the world. They are just a powerful band live. Songs I had only heard a few days before had the same weight and feelings of nostalgia as songs that I knew from my formative years, driving around aimlessly in the suburbs blasting my lovingly crafted “indie mix” cassettes. This was the most money I’ve ever paid to see a band, but it was worth every euro to be at that non-stop dance party (because you all know I love a dance party). Also my first arena show, but apparently I don’t hate those either. I know that Daniel railed against The Suburbs phenomena earlier this year, but now I know there’s a reason for all of it. And I also know that seeing a mainstream indie band in an arena might not be the worst thing you could ever do. If you even remotely like the Arcade Fire and save your pennies for this hot ticket the next time they come through your town, you’ll be glad you did.
Setlist: (via Mercadeo Pop)
Ready to Start
Month of May
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
No Cars Go
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Crown of Love
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Keep the Car Running
We Used to Wait
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)