The gigantic Arcade Fire

Neon Bible My love for The Arcade Fire began with this 2004 article in a small city magazine published by the Missouri J-School, which I was attending at the time.

The article, published November 25 was promoting a show the band was going to play the following week in Columbia, Mo.

The last quote in the article was from front-man and lyricist Win Butler, who was describing the live experience.

It is just so unpredictable. If you come thinking you’ll get one thing, then there will be people with their arms folded. Come with an open mind, and you’ll get an experience.

I was intrigued. The promise of an experience, combined with Butler’s idea of an ideal band (Marlon Brando on drums, Cap’n Crunch on the congos, Peter Frampton on guitar, early Salt-N-Pepa doing a dance scene with The Fly Girls, and Roy Orbison as the vocalist) sold me on the show.

That’s how I decided go see a band called The Arcade Fire play MoJo’s in Columbia, Missouri on November 30, 2004.

Today (March 6, 2007), the band released their second album, “Neon Bible,” a wonderful and grandiose piece of music. I will not talk about that record (others have done a much better job) but I will use this opportunity for a little reflection.

In November 2004, The Arcade Fire sold out MoJo’s, which fits about 300 people. Today they sell out huge concert halls and stadiums within minutes. The buzz about them had started in 2004, but if you were not paying attention to music festivals such as CMJ, they weren’t anywhere near the radio, MTV or Rolling Stone. They were so small, in fact, that they were interviewed for that story I read in Vox Magazine. Today they grace four pages in the New York Times Magazine or the New Yorker.

I paid $8 to get into that show and I left sweaty and elated. The opening bands had dragged on too long and I was getting tired. But when the Arcade Fire came on to unleash a torrent of energy on a convoluted array of instruments from violins to motorcycle helmets, I was hooked. Instruments were being tossed in the air, band members were drumming on each other’s heads or the ceiling, and the crowd was ecstatic. Today, you hear people referring to an Arcade Fire concert experience as “cathartic.” I know where that’s coming from. (I couldn’t find pictures of that show, but here’s some from another gig on that fall 2004 tour)

I’m still debating whether I should go try to go see them at Glastonbury this summer. I love their music just as much as I did after I gave “Funeral” its first spin. But I know that the intimacy of that night in Missouri is unique–so unique that I don’t want to layer other memories on top of it.

Update (a little later in the day): If you’re curious how the Arcade Fire sounded live back in 2004, check out this recording from their Boston show.

PS: Remembering your musical past is fun–I recently reviewed a book that does just that (yes, it’s about how indie rock saved John Sellers’ life).

5 Responses to “The gigantic Arcade Fire”

  1. Victor Slack Says:

    Read your article with great interest.My first experience of Arcade Fire was as many people in Great Britain and Ireland through the 2 songs performed on the Jools Holland show.I was blown away by them.It was one of those occasions when I just knew that I had seen something special.I was tempted to go and see them at the Electric Picnic in Co Laois 2 years ago but because it covered 2 whole days and lots of bands that I had no interest in I didnt bother.It kind of irks me now that I didnt since I read that Win Butler rates that performance very highly of all their concerts.Anyway I got to see them at the Olympia in Dublin the other night and they were brilliant.So many of the songs from Funeral have that anthemic quality which so much of the crowd can pick up on but the almost symphonic style of many also suggests that the intention was never just to create a sing along style.They are a truly remarkable phenomenon.

    I have to admit that I have not as yet heard Neon Bible but heard enough at the concert to know that as with Funeral and the other CD there are a number of real gems contained within.

    My own personal favourite from their 6th March performance was “Crown of Love” which as Win explained they hadnt performed live for about 18 months.Its a brilliant song.

    Lets hope that they stay with an Indie label and refuse to put fame and fortune first(as I suspect they will) but I for one will try and convince as many people as possible that this is the most energetic,pulsating and imaginative band for years.They all appear to be so talented that they may well drift off in their own directions sooner rather than later so lets enjoy the experience whilst it lasts.

    By the way I am 51 years old so in all probability one of their older fans but their music doesnt half make me feel younger.

  2. That show was as amazing as you say – and it will never happen again for us. Too bad – but at least we were there to see it with all those Columbia hipsters, right? I had written off live shows and Arcade Fire definitely made me want to see them again. But unfortunately only in places like MoJo’s. Sigh.

  3. Agreed. Thank you for dragging my Jewish ass to that show. I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome it was, talking to people at the Hold Steady concert the other week, who had the biggest boners for Arcade Fire and would love to see them in concert… but that might not happen at any kind of club…

    (for the record, Bobby Conn was pretty fun too).

  4. Oh, and with regard to that first poster– I totally bonded with Klaus Jansen, also in his 50s (I think) when I was at Marvel. (he’s a famous comic book artist). He said something like “Josh, I can’t understand all that music you kids are listening to these days. Except Arcade Fire. I love them.”

  5. mamie slack Says:

    could that be my cousin VICTOR SLACK thats turned into an auld rocker? mamie.

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