"The Arcade Fire"
Austin City Limits
Recently, a discussion about buzz bands has erupted online. As the music blogging community continues to search out and publicize new and up-and-coming bands, some have warned of the potential downfall for musicians (Idolator used the Black Kids as a perfect example). In its annual music issue, the Oxford American put it succinctly, "Unknown bands become all-too-familiar bands in a month, and abandoned bands the next month." Even John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, often a target of music blog love himself, agreed, stating that, "the hunger for something that feels good and exciting and important seems to have progressed to a point of insatiability." The Arcade Fire is one of the exceptions that proves this rule.
Appropriately enough, I first sought out the Arcade Fire's music after seeing the band mentioned on one of my favorite music blogs. In March of 2003, Said the Gramophone described the band's music as "Neil Young-meets-New Order dreams," in a post about Goldfrapp's "Black Cherry." Once I listened to the band's self-titled debut EP, I was in love with their lush arrangements, literate lyrics and pure energy. When the EP was officially released, music blogs and mainstream media chimed in with universal praise, to be followed by even greater adoration for the band's first album, Funeral, of which which Pitchfork said "it's so easy to embrace this album's operatic proclamation of love and redemption speaks to the scope of The Arcade Fire's vision." Not surprisingly, the band released its second album, Neon Bible, this year to almost universal acclaim, causing the Observer to dub the band "are the greatest art rock group since Talking Heads stopped making sense."
Simply put, the Arcade Fire has become one of my favorite bands, and I cherish the opportunity to see them perform. Unfortunately the band has skipped my area of the deep South the past couple of tours, so I have either endured lengthy road trips to shows or gotten my fix with live recordings. Luckily for me, the band taped an Austin City Limits episode this fall.
With Austin City Limits featuring more indie rock acts over the past couple of years, I find myself eying the schedule and setting my Tivo. The Arcade Fire is a perfect choice for the series, on stage the band is a talented and dynamic ensemble fronted by the charismatic Win Butler, and this night was no different. The band's music is truly collective, members swap instruments, Butler's wife Regine Chassagne takes over vocal duties for a song, and even the violinists add their voices to the chorus, and everyone's enthusiasm is apparent and infectious. Crowd shots show the indie kids screaming along with the lyrics and even dancing in their seats (including the music bloggers behind My Old Kentucky Blog and You Ain't No Picasso, who called the show "one of the best concertgoing moments of my life"). Even Stereogum had a correspondent at the show.
Generally, I am not a huge fan of concert videos. I am far more likely to listen to a live recording than spend time watching a filmed show. For me, the music is more important than the performance, and often commercially-released concert DVDs are more products of the director's vision than a faithful capture of the artist's live performance at that point in time. Fan videos tend to be a bit rough and hard to follow. Austin City Limits is the exception, the ACL shows concentrate on showcasing the artist and their music. No special effects, no flashbacks, just talented musicians sharing their live performance. The one additional feature, the interview at the end of the show, is a necessary evil. In the Arcade Fire's case, however, as the band discussed its songwriting technique and their surprise at their sudden rise to fame, we gain an insight into these talented musicians lives and art.