Arcade Fire At Infinite Energy Center (Duluth, GA), Thursday, September 21st, 2017, Reviewed
When my wife and I arrived at Duluth’s Infinite Energy Arena for our stop on Arcade Fire’s Infinite Content tour, I checked in on Facebook and joked that we were playing “Spot The Man Bun” as the crowd filed in. (We weren’t, really…but what a target-rich environment.) The first comment I got back was from my good friend Jamie, a show-going buddy of mine for over twenty years: “I’m never going to understand this band. But the new record is a real dance party.”
Arcade Fire has never been an easy band to understand. Non-fans are quick to point out how outwardly humorless and dour they come across. But if you’ve been to an AF show, or even seen interviews with the band, you know that they’re all actually pretty damn funny in a very dry and deadpan manner. They’re hard to pin down musically. There are certainly many fans of their early earnest chamber pop/rock who are not fond of the fact that, in fact, their last two albums have been, as Jamie said, “…a real dance party.”
So maybe it wasn’t that surprising when the Duluth show, originally announced as in-the-round, eventually got scaled back to a half-house show…and, even then, the arena’s available seats were only a little over half full at show time. While many bands might’ve come down with a phantom case or two of laryngitis as an excuse to cancel in light of a poor advance, Arcade Fire marched to the boxing ring-shaped stage and proceeded to…well…deliver a knockout show.
The band set an energetic tone with the opening trifecta of “Everything Now,” “Signs of Life,” and the longtime crowd favorite “Rebellion (Lies)” before saying hello. The core band is augmented this go-around with a sax player and an additional percussionist. Between AF’s typical jumping and thrashing about and the constant reshuffling of instruments between songs, the stage looked like an elementary school playground at recess from beginning to end.
After the third song, AF front man Win Butler addressed the crowd and the elephant in the room…all the empty seats. He implored the fans upstairs in the cheap seats to come on down and get closer. “Ushers…please…let them come down. It’s fine. We don’t mind.” After the mass exodus from the heavens, Win dedicated “Keep The Car Running” to the people in his hometown of Houston who are cleaning up and rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. His wife Regine’s hurdy-gurdy must’ve been seized by customs at the Canadian border as she instead wielded an 80s-looking keytar….but it made “Keep The Car…” sound, for the first time to these ears, actually a little bit funky.
The set ended up being quite heavy with Everything Now material, none of which sent the crowd running up the aisles…as new material so often does at arena shows. The crowd in Duluth may not have understood Arcade Fire any more than my friend Jamie…but that’s not a dealbreaker for everybody. Sometimes what you don’t understand compels you to lean in a little closer. And by the time AF closed the show with “Wake Up” and its infectious up-tempo ending, everyone was leaning in, pressed to the stage and…you know what? Having a real dance party.