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Arcade Fire At The Kia Forum, Thursday, November 17th, 2022

Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire

Since the allegations of sexual misconduct against Win Butler, Arcade Fire has lost some of its appeal among fans. On Thursday night, as the band was about to play a second show at the Kia forum, it took a long time for the crowd to fill up the arena, and the 200s sections stayed quite empty. I even read that upgrades to floor tickets were handed out to people who had nosebleed seats. From the floor front rows, the place looked crowded because a lot of people were pushing to get to the front, but it really was not the case. I got in line very early because I had a floor ticket, and if fans showed up, it was not a crazy line by any means.

It was particularly true during the opening band – however, it’s always the case for these big shows, people never show up for the opener – a Haitian roots band named Boukman Eksperyans – which had a super positive energy. They were simply great at mixing ethnic Haitian rhythms with a badass electric guitar and African-style dances. I was not surprised to read that their moniker, Eksperyans is the Haitian creole for “experience,” was a way to demonstrate their appreciation for Jimi Hendrix’s music. You could really feel the electrifying energy and the good vibes escaping from their tunes; after the let-down experienced by many of the fans, the Haitian band was the much-needed uplift people craved. I personally didn’t care about the allegations, as I have always thought it’s crazy to put rock stars on a pedestal of virtue: it is never realistic and utterly hypocritical. Some get caught, whereas others don’t and the entire thing is infinitely unfair. Since it involved consenting adults, what happened should have stayed between Win and Régine. I was not here to dissect a marriage or their personal arrangements, I was there for the music.

Looking at the crowd during the show, I would never say that Arcade Fire is canceled. The energy around me was unbelievable, fans were screaming, jumping, and chanting all the lyrics. Sure many tickets were still available at ridiculous prices on resale sites an hour before the show, and you could have bought very cheap tickets (I am talking about $18 on Vividseats). However, at the same time, the band hasn’t lost their label or publicists, they are still touring big arenas and have just been announced as the co-headliners of Cala Mijas, a new festival in Spain, along with The Strokes and Florence + the Machine. You certainly cannot call this a cancellation. After the publication of the Pitchfork article revealing the allegations, Feist (who should have opened for some of the shows) canceled, and Beck soon followed her. I said it before, but I never canceled Beck because of his connection with Scientology (an organization that I consider criminal). Not long ago, Beck also toured with the Red Hot Chili Peppers despite the very problematic behavior of all its members in the ’90s, and in particular, Antony Kiedis, strangely ignored by the #metoo movement. Read this and let me know how you feel… This is another side of this cancel culture nonsense that I cannot stand: the inconsistency! Look what happened to Ryan Adams. Aren’t we dealing with the same kind of allegations as the ones that landed on Butler? However, Adams lost everything and this may have been due to the fact that the accusations came from famous women (Mandy Moore, Phoebe Bridgers whose popularity hasn’t stopped growing since) whereas Win’s accusers are unknown sources. On top of this, the most famous woman around Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, has stayed on her man’s side. There may be other factors that I am not aware of but the hypocrisy of cancel culture never ceases to amuse me. Logically, the same conditions should lead to the same results, but money is always a factor, and promoters probably think that Arcade Fire is much more of a money machine than Adams.

On Thursday night, there was no sign of what happened, and it would have been very awkward to make an allusion to anything when facing this cheering crowd. At the end of the concert, when the band decided to walk through the crowd, like a New Orleans marching band after leaving the second stage where they had performed the encore, many women (and I am not talking about teenagers, but grown-up women in their late twenties and thirties) restlessly pushed me to approach the musicians, especially when Win Butler walked by. Think whatever you want but not every woman has canceled him.

Why this long rant about Arcade Fire’s blurry cancelation instead of reviewing the concert? Because an Arcade Fire concert is tainted with this story no matter what, and not mentioning it would be the elephant in the room that you ignore. When posting photos of the concert on social media, I received an expected but unnecessary backlash. The problem is that people continue to have this imaginary relationship with rockstars and celebrities, and unless you are Win Butler’s mother, sister, or close friend, there is no point to be “disappointed” by Butler’s behavior, and Regine is the only person who has the right to be mad at him.

After a long wait and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” blasting through the speakers (not complaining at all), Arcade Fire delivered one of the most energetic and harmonious shows I have seen for a long time. Despite his detractors, Win Butler is still the frontman of the band, and even though Regine takes the lead on a few songs, she is too often the multi-instrumentalist genius relegated behind the scene. Is there any instrument that this woman cannot play? However, she became the star of the show during “Sprawl II, Mountains Beyond Mountains,” crossing the crowd and reappearing on a second smaller stage to continue the song below a giant disco ball.

The lineup of the band is different, brother Will conveniently left the band before the scandal (but who could blame him?), and his energy is certainly missed. But I soon forgot about him, taken by the energy of a band completed by Dan Boeckner and Paul Beaubrun (of Boukman Eksperyans). They started with the tempo-ascending “Age of Anxiety I” from their last album but soon went back to their early material with “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” off their beloved “Funeral.” It’s possible that they never wrote anything better than this first album, which will always be a high they are perpetually trying to chase but never reach. Over a 2-hour concert, they performed songs from their six albums with the same youthful fervor, ardent vocals, explosive instrumentation, and this persistent wide-eyed idealism that made them famous. If I didn’t care much for the album “Everything Now,” “Put Your Money on Me” had nevertheless their signature rhythm, part infectious part anxious that many of the other songs deliver. At the front of the stage, there was an elevated step often used by Win to get closer to the crowd and he and Regine stepped on it together for the most memorable duos of the night during “Put Your Money on Me” and “Reflektor.” Meanwhile, Win jumped in the crowd several times, continuing singing in the middle of the delighted audience surrounded by a forest of iPhones. They sandwiched three songs from “We” between two “Reflektor“ and two “Neon Bible” tracks, and everything had a great uniformity of sounds and spirit, while the band was trying to recapture the innocence of their beginning: plenty of pieces sounded like all-embracing anthems with pounding chords, outbursts of energy and crowd singalongs.

During “Afterlife,” Will climbed the stairs of the seated sections, going through the seats while being greeted by fans, and ended in an empty section, sitting by himself for a minute or two while singing. It may have been the most symbolic moment of the show: Win isolated from everyone else, in the middle of empty rows and screaming “Can we work it out”…  Sometimes, lyrics fit so well that there’s no need for anything else. It was one of the few instants of solitude, while all the rest of the show sounded grandiose and triumphant or at the very least festive. As festive as Regine’s sexy outfits she wore during the night – her rainbow light-reflective coat she put on during “Reflektor” was indeed very effective.

The show was restless, there was not one breather among these songs until maybe the folksy intro of “We,” and each one of them was an invitation to participation, whether it was an extended dance party or a collective singalong. Meanwhile, the band’s interactions looked genuine and spontaneous, giving every ounce of sweat they still had in their body; a rendition of “The Lightning” got especially pumped up and disheveled. If it was still possible, the enthusiasm grew even more with a crowd’s acapella at the end of “No Cars Go” showed, and multicolored smiley tube puppets suddenly appearing during “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid),” a song inspired by Win and Regine’s son. I took the slight alteration of the lyrics of “The Suburbs” – “Send me a perfect son” – as another cute reference to their offspring.

If “Rebellion,” the “Funeral” song they played just before the encore, still speaks to me much more than the rather banal refrain of “Everything Now,” the performance was a blast from start to finish. It was one of these sweeping arenas shows that the band became famous for, intense and delirious, a party to lose your voice and senses, a bouncy feast to spill beer on your neighbor’s feet, a collective and unifying experience during these polarizing times. The full band reappeared on the small stage for a more intimate encore (although I had lost my first-row spot), and the heartfelt “End of the Empire I-III” had never sounded more Bowie-like. I could have gone without an unexpected cover of Jane’s Addiction (“Jane Says”) but they tried to be original. The only cliché of the show could have been the “Wake Up” grand finale, but let’s admit it, everyone in the room wanted to hear this song once again.

With recurrent themes of childhood, lost innocence, social consciousness, hope, and desperate optimism in the middle of the apocalypse, it was easy to fall in love with Arcade Fire 18 years ago. Add to this a David Bowie approval and charity work (some proceeds of their shows still go to Kanpe, an organization helping Haiti’s recovery) and you had the perfect darling of the indie world. There is now a certain uneasiness around their shows, but this dissipated rapidly with the adrenaline spike induced by their driving melodies and propulsive instrumentation. Arcade Fire is still a force, even though it is currently shaken. I believe that songs that moved you to tears can have a life independent of their creator because of the emotions they still convey. Songs (and art in general) will have a life of their own, as they belong to anyone that receives them and continues to keep them alive. And on Thursday night, it was good to be alive with these songs.

Setlist
Age of Anxiety I
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Ready to Start
Put Your Money on Me
Afterlife
Reflektor
Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)
The Lightning I
The Lightning II
Keep the Car Running
No Cars Go
Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)
The Suburbs
The Suburbs (Continued)
WE
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Everything Now
Rebellion (Lies)

Encore:
End of the Empire I-III
End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius A*)
Jane Says (Jane’s Addiction cover)
Wake Up

 

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