The Arcade Fire w/ The National | 04.21.11

“We’re still getting used to this arena rock thing,” Butler announced modestly. “But shit, every room’s a room, right?”

 

ScottradeCenter, St. Louis

 

Photos by Kelly Gleuck; click for a larger image. For more photos of the National and the Arcade Fire, visit our photo gallery here and here.
 
Indie rock is often praised for its intimacy, but it can be a struggle for bands to translate that intimacy to an arena-sized scale. The Scottrade Center tried its best to assist, using its “Concert Club” setup to shrink the cavernous hockey arena to a somewhat manageable size by cutting off about a third of the building as well as the entire upper bowl, but it was up to the bands themselves to make that setup work. Though both the National and the Arcade Fire make intimate music with arena-sized ambitions, the bands took very different tacks in translating that music for the masses.
 
The St. Louis crowd was, as usual, fashionably late, with the general admission fans on the floor barely trickling past the opposite blue line as the National took the stage to the strains of Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me.” The National similarly decided to start off slowly with “Start a War,” a slow burner that began with ringing guitar notes before the bass started to throb and pulse behind Matt Berninger’s deep baritone, the instruments gradually piling on until the song ended in a sea of squealing guitar feedback. The band then followed with “Anyone’s Ghost,” laying enough echo on the vocals to give the song a menacing, Interpol-esque vibe.
 
The National, for the most part, kept their stage show simple, with monochromatic stage lighting that bathed the mostly black-clad band in a single color per song (green for “Anyone’s Ghost,” red for the ominous “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and the Pixies-ish thrasher “Abel,” purple for the R.E.M. jangle of “Brainy,” etc. etc.). The main concession to the scope of the evening’s festivities was expanding the band’s usual quintet to a seven-piece with the addition of a trumpet and a trombone that were, for the most part, inaudible (although they did add to the celebratory air of “Slow Show”). The crowd was generally as subdued as the band, making plenty of noise between the songs (prompting Berninger to jokingly chastise “Please be quiet! Who said ‘whoop’?”) but otherwise only summoning up enough energy for head bobs.
 
The set peaked at its halfway point, when the Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry joined the National for a pair of songs from last year’s High Violet, adding sighed backing vocals to “Afraid of Everyone” and some chugging guitars to “Conversation 16.”  The step up wasn’t all thanks to Parry, however, with some energetic crowd clapping joining the pump organ on the former before the song devolved into a ripping guitar solo, and Berninger breaking out of his usual melancholic funk during the latter to scream “I’m evil!” with rare energy.
 
Staying in hookier territory for “England” and “Fake Empire” (the latter of which coming off, thanks to its Ben Folds-y piano, like the cheeriest Nick Cave song ever made), the band began playing more to the crowd, with Berninger cheers-ing his wine glass against his mic between songs and making the occasional run into the first few rows. But those antics were just a warm-up for “Mr. November,” which featured Berninger sprinting all the way to the far boards screaming “I won’t fuck us over!” before climbing the stairs into the stands. A veritable army of stagehands struggled to keep Berninger’s mic chord from getting tangled, but that didn’t slow down Berninger, who ran out of song well before he ran out of seating sections to explore.
 
“Terrible Love” wrapped up the 60-minute set on a strong note, with its churning yet tender, “Heroin” meets “The New Age” Velvet Underground-ish beginning eventually swallowed as the guitars swelled up like ocean waves. Though occasionally the muddy sound got the better of them, on the whole the National’s set succeeded thanks to the natural rise and fall within each song, which made for a dynamic show even without a demanding stage presence.
 
The Arcade Fire, on the other hand, had no interest in starting slow or waiting for things to naturally build. They exploded out of the gate with, appropriately enough, “Ready to Start,” using two drumkits to magnify the song’s pulsing beat before careening into an extended instrumental break that saw band members already exchanging instruments mid-song. The song stretched past the ten-minute mark, ultimately devolving into a squall of fuzz that, for a few moments, hid the throbbing bassline of “Rebellion (Lies),” the first of many crowd-pleasers of the night. Where “Ready to Start” was epic and wild, “Rebellion” was tight and poppy, with singer/guitarist Win Butler prowling the edge of the stage to lead the crowd to emphatically scream along to the song’s radio-ready chorus.
 
Unfortunately, the band was fighting some minor sound problems during the early songs, with the background vocals on “Rebellion” distorting heavily and Régine Chassagne sounding like she couldn’t hear herself well enough on “Neighborhood #2 (Laika).” The yelped male/female vocals faired better on the propulsive, X-style punk of “Empty Room.”
 
The room, obviously, was far from empty at this point, with the crowd filling the floor and over two-thirds of the concert club seating. This was a marked contrast to last time Arcade Fire hit St. Louis where, as Butler jokingly pointed out, the band was “at Rocket Bar opening for the Unicorns. Sorry about that show, those of you who were there. All two of you.”
 
The setlist leaned heavily on songs from last year’s Grammy-winning album The Suburbs, and while the dearth of songs from 2007’s Neon Bible was disappointing, the ample new songs in the main set’s middle third proved that the band certainly hasn’t been coasting since 2004’s Funeral. The title track in particular sounded stronger and fuller live (thanks to the great use of Sarah Neufeld and Marika Anthony-Shaw’s violins), while “Modern Man” ably slowed the pace (highlighted by Jeremy Gara’s cracking drums and a gorgeously clear-toned guitar solo from Butler) and the dopey-on-album “Rococo” became a quiet delight thanks to a wash of maracas and shakers that backed Butler’s hushed acoustic guitar.
 
“We’re still getting used to this arena rock thing,” Butler announced modestly. “But shit, every room’s a room, right?” As if to prove their ability to conquer any-sized room arena or otherwise, the band then blasted into “No Cars Go,” an arena-worthy rocker that would have been the night’s inarguable highlight had it not been cleaved in two by an earsplitting keyboard solo that sounded like it was being played on the world’s shittiest ‘80s Casio. It was a rare misstep, and a brief one, with the instruments instantly dropping out for the song’s bridge before Gara’s monstrous drums brought the band right back into shape.
 
Chassange took over the lead role for “Haiti,” her bright vocals (now thankfully free of sound problems) matching the sunny scenes of palm trees on the stage screens as she danced around the stage unencumbered by an instrument. Neufeld and Anthony-Shaw’s violins swelled like the warm-up to a symphony before the opening of “Keep the Car Running,” an epic highlight with some unique instrumentation including Butler on mandolin and Chassange on the hurdy gurdy. The band switched things up again on “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” with Chassange taking over the drums to allow Gara to play the song’s unmistakable six-note lead guitar figure. Despite being a slow burner, “Neighborhood #1” worked the crowd into a fervor that carried over into the churning “Wake Up,” a note perfect ending to the 80-minute main set that caused cheering the likes of which is rarely heard outside of European soccer matches.
 
The stage was briefly engulfed in darkness before the screens lit up with a video of “The Lusty Month of May” from the movie Camelot that led directly into The Suburbs scorcher “The Month of May,” with Butler screaming to be heard over the loads of guitar feedback and dual drum attack. About a quarter of the crowd greeted the savagery with the head-banging it so richly deserved, while the other three-quarters just looked confused. This prompted chastisement from Butler, who joked“That’s how you’re gonna be? After all we’ve been through?”
 
The reception was much more enthusiastic for the more familiar “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” an understated change of pace with Butler’s vocals halfway between speak-singing and barking over xylophone and powerful guitars. The song broke down into chanted “ooh-ooh” vocals before exploding into a thrashing instrumental outro that, like “Ready to Start” devolved into squealing feedback and flashing strobes before transforming on a dime into “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” The sunny respite—awash in bouncing, ‘80s-ish keys and a straight 2/4 beat—was like the Arcade Fire had magically transformed into Tom Tom Club, Chassagne’s vocals ringing out bright and clear as she playfully danced with streamers like a sort of rhythmic gymnastics. With only three songs, the encore not only showcased the Arcade Fire’s full sonic range, it also put a bow on what was hands-down one of the best concerts St. Louis has seen in the last few years, arena or otherwise. | Jason Green
 
The National Setlist:
 
Start a War
Anyone’s Ghost
Brainy
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Slow Show
Afraid of Everyone
Conversation 16
Abel
Apartment Story
England
Fake Empire
Mr. November
Terrible Love
 
The Arcade Fire Setlist:
 
Ready to Start
Rebellion (Lies)
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
Empty Room
Modern Man
Rococo
The Suburbs
Intervention
No Cars Go
Haiti
We Used to Wait
Keep the Car Running
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Wake Up

Encore:
Month of May
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

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