Resurrected, Living in a Lighthouse. Five Nights of the Arcade Fire in Montreal
Whatever the Neon Bible is, the Arcade Fire certainly did their best to give us a sense of their sophomore album of this week, with a five-night stand in their home-town. With the exception of an intimate secret warm-up gig at the end of January prior to their London shows, these were first official appearances the band had made since opening for U2 in 2005, and their first headlining shows since their three-night run at the Corona theatre in April of that year .
If they were a newly minted household name then, even Heaven and Hades know them by now. They probably could have sold out the Bell Centre without U2 this time around, and these five shows at the 600-capacity Ukrainian Federation were about as sold out as you can get.
But that’s what makes this band great. It’s not just that they’ve managed to keep their feet on the ground in the wake of Funeral. It’s that they’ve managed to roll out an album and a spectacle that’s grounded but still grand. Where most bands would explode or dissolve under the pressure of this kind of spotlight, the Arcade Fire manage to reflect it back. (In some cases literally thanks to rather ingenious costuming...)
Sure, the band played from more or less the same setlist each night, running through most of the Neon Bible material and sprinkling it with versions of Haiti, Power Out, Rebellion, and the occasional Tunnels or Laika, but there was plenty of rewarding variety to be found in details of other kinds. And this is true of both their performances and the Neon Bible itself.
Take (Anti-Christ Television Blues), a song about a “good Christian man” ready to essentially sell his daughter to the masses. Forget for a moment that this may or may not be inspired by a real person, whose name I’ll omit. There’s a kind of honest sadness to it, as it’s sung in the first person, and the man ends by saying ‘Lord, am I the Anti-Christ?’ It comes off as if he really does believe himself to be a good Christian man, really does want the best for his children, and doesn’t want them working downtown for minimum wage. You can see all of America in it; a kind of otherwise honest faith gone awry. And if you paid attention, you could hear Win Butler introducing the song with a different lyrical prologue each time, even going so far as to write it out on the setlist in place of the song’s name.
And maybe that’s the moral that Neon Bible brings to the table. (And don’t tell me it doesn’t have one, when one of it’s centerpieces, The Well and the Lighthouse, is inspired by “Le Loup et Le Renard” by Jean de La Fontaine’s, whose touchstone was a moral at the end of each fable.) Dig after “the Devil is in the details” and you’ll find that it probably originates with “Le bon Dieu est dans le detail”. Little things can make a difference.
The Arcade Fire put a little girl of their own “up on that stage”, but I don’t think Win Butler is the Anti-Christ. On Wednesday night she began the show by reading La Fontaine’s fable, in French, aloud to the crowd. Last night she read it on the stage in the venue’s basement (candles and all), where the band had snuck to finish their encore for those lucky or cunning enough to make it down behind them. (You can also find her in the lyrics section of neonbible.com ). It was details like this—like the acoustic Wake Up opener on Friday night, in the middle of the crowd—that made the shows special. And if the biggest band in the world can turn the spectacle of their performance on its head…hey, maybe America can lift its faith up out that well of desire and fear…