Arcade Fire meekly mesmerizes millennials
They came, they saw, they conked the much-despised Boomer generation on their collective noggins with the ferocity of a barbed-wired baseball bat on a hapless Walking Dead captive.
OK, the jury’s still out on that third assessment, but it was all to the delight of the devout 10,000 or so hipsters at a pilgrimage showcasing the Montreal modern rockers Arcade Fire on Wednesday night at Rogers Place. Led by vocalist Win Butler, the nine-piece multi-instrumental ensemble didn’t disappoint the impressionable youngsters during a set that clocked in at 100 minutes, plus an encore that included a heavily drawn-out rendition of their classic Wake Up.
That display of millennial pride was hinted at when the ensemble showed up on stage in a boxing ring that adorned the perimeter in an in-the-round setting, as they launched into the title track of their fifth and latest album Everything Now. It’s not hard to interpret the title as a mantra of instant gratification that bearded, horn-rimmed stalwarts embrace when railing against their flower-power predecessors who eventually discovered greed. Yep, we’re talking about the same gaggle that presumably razed the planet into an environmentally toxic social order that drained the younger set’s opportunities in the wake of a trickle-nowhere economy.
But the message behind the boxing metaphor (roadies took down the ring halfway through the set.) quickly dissolved into the massive light-and-laser ether. Arcade Fire is an otherwise tight outfit with incredible attention to detail, right down to the ubiquitous mini-cams – including one planted between the rack toms of drummer Jeremy Gara. But their potential for delivering strong, punchy hooks were frequently diluted by a penchant for lush arrangements to the point of sissiness. It was almost testament to the rising prominence of milquetoast B-type males at the expense of their more alpha counterparts.
We saw that inclination surface when otherwise excellent keyboardist Régine Chassagne’s vocals on lighter pieces like Electric Blue bordered on Minnie Mouse irritation. Neon Bible came across as liltingly catatonic. At several points in the show, fans raised their arms back and forth in a Kumbaya-inspired display of syrupy solidarity to the point of nausea. That wimpification was even more obvious during Butler’s indecipherable rambling about a visit earlier that day to West Edmonton Mall.
Something he saw “made me cry like a baby,” he muttered before launching the band into No Cars Go, which could easily be interpreted as a plea for more bike lanes.
Thankfully, the group managed to muster enough energy to appease occupants in the belly of the Rogers beast and deliver on their strongest pieces like Ready To Start, Rebellion (Lies), We Used to Wait, and Creature Comfort, one of the most riveting tunes from the new release. At their best, Arcade Fire comes across as the ultimate mashup of polyrythmic Talking Heads and nuanced cleverness a la Flaming Lips. But when they revert into weep mode, it’s enough to make Morrissey look like Josef Stalin.
To be fair, Arcade Fire are decidedly apolitical in their material. This makes their ambassador status among the annoying self-entitled generation that so far has invented only the fidget spinner and the selfie even more mystifying. But one essential clue is the group’s ability to stay on message in getting their name out to the multitudes, even if it reflects the ubiquitous self-indulgence of corporate marketing tactics. The globe logo of the new album (looking suspiciously like a MuchMusic symbol from yesteryear) was omnipresent on band personnel garb, as if they were officers on a Roddenberry junket. Those insignias were blasted out like blip-verts on the big screen throughout the show and on the Rogers Place video ad crawler that borders the arena.
How that display of flagrant self-promotion that blared into prominence during the Gordon Gecko heydays can be forgiven by a decidedly anti-conglomerate throng may eventually be a subject for debate in the years to come.
New York’s Phantogram opened the evening with works that wouldn’t sound out of place on a set list dominated by the likes of Metric and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. While the four-piece outfit relied far too heavily on samplers near the end, they managed to stay grounded for much of their set, especially with their humourously sobering You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.