When Arcade Fire came to the Greek Theatre three years ago, it was a loveable indie powerhouse playing morbid songs about death, religion, and everything in between. Now that it has added the suburbs to its thematic conquests, it has gained the crossover appeal for which every indie band secretly strives. As it showed on its Saturday visit to the Greek, the band has used its new power to create a show that played out like a visual and aural soundtrack to suburban life in all its malignant grandeur.
Fans were given the first indication that this show may be something special after the opening band Calexico's set ended and a large curtain behind the stage dropped, revealing a backdrop that depicted a freeway overpass, plus a full-size billboard that doubled as the band's projector scene. It was flanked by a bank of lights reminiscent of those used at high school football fields. Thus, Arcade Fire's suburban landscape was complete, and the music hadn't even begun. Shortly after the band had taken the stage, it was clear why such meticulous detail was put into stage direction. Scenic design became part of the show's drama. During the raucous, angst-driven "Month of May," the billboard flashed chaotic black-and-white images of the band playing from various angles. Lighter tracks like "Keep the Car Running" featured videos of desultory, early-morning drives on traffic-less interstates. The music intermingled seamlessly with the projections. Each song change signaled another stage, and each stage, in turn, described a new suburban milieu.
Musically, the band's performance was just as stellar as expected. Lead singer-songwriter Win Butler moved spastically around the stage, pulsing to the rhythms of upbeat songs like Funeral's "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" and "Rebellion (Lies)" and turning them into full-fledged sing-alongs. Yet, as fun as it was for Arcade Fire to get loud, the true beauty from the show came from its ballads. The somber combination of "The Suburbs" and "Ocean of Noise" became an enrapturing experience. Butler drove the capacity crowd to silence as he all but whispered the songs' lyrics. In typical Arcade Fire fashion, though, the band switched moods on a dime. With its first encore, "Intervention," Butler got about as dark as he could get. Then he immediately switched gears with the explosive anthem, "Wake Up." It was enough to catapult a twenty-year-old college student back to his former life as a neurotic kid in the suburbs.
At the end of the show, Butler threw his tambourine into the audience. My younger brother caught it, and will give it a good home in Walnut Creek.