Arcade Fire in Raleigh (7-12-2018)

Arcade Fire’s lead singer, Win Butler, walked right past me as the band took the stage at Red Hat Amphitheater last Thursday, July 12, 2018. Above, you’ll see the photograph I hastily took from my aisle seat at the venue. A great show it was, although the band elected not to play “Intervention,” one of my favorite songs of their catalogue.

I can’t recall exactly how it was that I discovered Arcade Fire, but I suspect that I learned of them from one of the music blogs I read back in mid-to-late 2004. In those days, I would download many, many albums from the iTunes Store, and Funeral, Arcade Fire’s first full length album, was among them. Apparently, I soon became a partisan of the band, introducing several friends to their work, if this tweet and that tweet are accurate.

I’ve now seen Arcade Fire four times, and they are a bit of a joy to behold. The News & Observer‘s David Menconi reviewed the show, and in so doing, he captured its spirit. Calling the group a “sort of a millennial chorus come to life,” he opined:

[I]t was pretty much one emotional crescendo after another, all in a key of E (as in Epic).

Arcade Fire’s members are all quite serious, and yet they always look like they’re having a great time. Everybody played pretty much everything, changing instruments while moving front to back, back to front and even beyond the stage. More than once, you’d look up and realize that one of them had ventured out into the crowd and was playing away nearby.

The finale was, of course, “Wake Up,” and the evening ended as it began: with everybody in the place singing.

Over the years, the band has irked reviewers and fans with its sense of self-importance, but the emotive impact of their anthems ameliorates the effect of any haughtiness.

Take, for example, “Intervention,” an epic indie hymn from the band’s 2007 album, Neon Bible. It begins with a blaring pipe organ and features this devastating lyric: “Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home.” Shortly before the release of Neon Bible, a bootleg MP3 of “Intervention” circulated online, prompting quite a reaction.

Here’s how Kelefa Sanneh of The New York Times described it at the time:

Would it be perverse to claim that “Intervention” sounded even better when it was a shared secret, circulating as a low-quality MP3 taken from a BBC broadcast, complete with a breathless D.J. — “If that doesn’t get you, man, if that doesn’t get you somewhere special …” — talking over the last few notes? Maybe. But even now, after all the attention and the big-hall shows, the best Arcade Fire songs still sound mysterious.

I remember that exuberant deejay. I recall his utter glee. That bootleg MP3 thrived on my iPod until I bought Neon Bible on the day of its release. I can even recall the circumstances of its purchase. That day, March 5, 2007, I was attending a conference on the Georgia coast, and I felt compelled to trek to a Best Buy in nearby Savannah to buy it.

For some time thereafter, though, the song didn’t seem quite the same without the deejay’s commentary over its closing bars. In those days before streaming platforms, there was something special about discovering a song online before it was widely available. I wish I still had that version of “Intervention” – the one with a rhapsodic disc jockey heaping praise upon the song as we awaited its official release.

Remember, too, that in 2005 Arcade Fire backed David Bowie on “Life on Mars?” and “Five Years” as well as their own “Wake Up.” If you’ve not encountered that EP, you should halt all current activity until you’ve heard it.

Simply put, there is something grand about Arcade Fire, a band worthy of much of the hyperbole their music provokes. So, when they play nearby, I’ll bear witness.

You can find the set list for the Raleigh show here.