I'm breaking from chronology to address something fairly significant that happened last night. Just let it be known that I had a pretty brilliant experience Wednesday afternoon that I'm going to get to as soon as I can. (Probably Monday.)
Thursday night was the big Arcade Fire show at the Summer Stage (yes, sometimes the summer lasts right until the middle of September.) There were two major rumors leading up to the show. The first rumor was that it was going to thunderstorm in the evening and that we'd all be wet, wet rock fans. Fortunately for us, not only was there neither rain nor thunder, it was actually a fairly cool and absolutely beautiful evening.
Two bands, Belle Orchestra (actually several of the "low profile" members of the Arcade Fire) and Sound Team, opened the night up but, while they were good, they absolutely do not matter in the story I have to tell.
The Arcade Fire absolutely ruled last CMJ 2004. They were all anyone (bloggers) talked after last year's marathon and the band went on to get mad love from rock critics over their debut full-length, Funeral, and sell out shows around the country like crazy. As I'm always suspicious of hype, I never even listened to the Arcade Fire until March of 2005 (you may even remember that I included Funeral in my Contrarian Best-Of list at the end of last year) . . . but wouldn't you know that Funeral won me over almost instantly and I was lucky enough to grab my tickets for tonight two months ago.
Anyway, in a year these Canadians went from packing the Mercury Lounge to selling out Summer Stage in Central Park, that's not so bad.
Here's some of the hip throng waiting for the big show . . .
When the band took the stage at precisely 8:45 (just like the internet said they would) the crowd went insane (BUT not as insane as they'd go 58 minutes later [foreshadowing]). Mercifully, the band started out by playing Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), my absolute favorite Arcade Fire song and a number I would have otherwise spent the rest of the show anticipating far too strongly. The hairs of my arms stood on end the instant my subconscious recognized the opening of the song and a few moments before I realized what I was hearing.
The Arcade Fire are far from what you'd call a conventional rock band. They're made up of nine members and include (along with more conventional instruments) a violin, viola, french horn, accordian, and percussionists who will drum on anything (particularly motorcycle helmets.)
They make music that is haunting, disturbing, and beautiful. They sing about families dying, names being forgotten, cities being lost in snow, digging tunnels to the windows of those you care about the most, hiding under blankets . . . and all sorts of other things that set off emotions linked to childhood fears (and hopes). It's the music of uneasy dreams, it'll make you feel like an orphan, and it'll also make you feel like you've been found.
Of course these photos are a little blurry and not super great. You sort of had to be there, to say the least.
Maybe that paragraph I wrote about their music was a little over-the-top, but also maybe you had to be there, or listen to their records a bit.
The band closed their set with "Rebellion (Lies)", an especially great song that they played on Letterman the night before. If the night had in fact ended with this song no one would have had anything at all to complain about. But something else had to happen. After a couple minutes of clapping and cheering, the band returned to the stage and the lead-singer (sorry, I don't know names) announced "This is a David Bowie song."
And, as the band began playing "Queen Bitch" (sorry Mom, that's what it's called), the Thin White Duke himself appeared on stage and took over the show.
You have not seen a crowd absolutely lose it's collective mind until you've been caught up in a mass of a couple thousand hipsters that read all the rumors on the internets that David Bowie might be appearing with the Arcade Fire that night and then, low and behold, the man is there.
This photo, taken when the lights were suddenly cut for a moment, kind of illustrates what was happening in all of our brains at that point.
I'll say it again and again, people were going out of their minds. It was the most berserk audience I had seen since LCD Soundsystem in Chicago.
Since you probably didn't make it to the show, I offer you this video from the first number. (It isn't short, and it's YouSendIt, so it might not be around forever.)
Mr. Bowie stuck around to play back up on the band's final number. I don't know everything, so I don't know what the song was.
Oh, another video? Yes. (Also long, also YouSendIt).
Seriously, you can't even begin to understand the mind explosion that this concert was.
UPDATED Here's a copy of the Arcade Fire doing the Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Maps." Good thing it just seems to be a live recording that's a little weak here and there, because if they worked this song out in a studio, it would be devastating.