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Concert review: Arcade Fire adopts a more muscular sound

Posted by Andy Downing | April 30, 2014 12:39 AM


Arcade Fire performed at the Schottenstein Center on Tuesday

The Schottenstein Center concourse could have passed for the lobby of a Marriott Hotel on New Year’s Eve when the Arcade Fire breezed into town for a Tuesday concert.

For this arena tour, the sprawling Canadian collective asked fans to dress in formal attire, and a large portion of the audience embraced the suggestion. College-aged gentlemen walked the halls in bowties and suit coats, and women donned cocktail dresses and towering, uncomfortable-looking heels. Still others arrived in more elaborate costumes, decked out in feathery jackets adorned with angel’s wings, face paint and, in one instance, a full body catsuit and spiky wig that made the attendee look like Dr. Suess’ Thing One (or, possibly, Thing Two).

In a recent interview, band member Will Butler (brother of frontman Win Butler) said the wardrobe request was designed to help foster a sense of community in the outsized arena setting — not that the crew needed any assistance. Indeed, perhaps the most striking thing about the band’s appearance here was how easily it transitioned into the large space, beefing up everything from its lineup (there were anywhere from eight to a dozen musicians onstage at a given time) to its sound, which was far more muscular here than on record, particularly on those tracks performed off last year’s Reflektor.

This was a pleasant surprise, considering in recorded form many of the songs on Reflektor, which clocks in at nearly 86 minutes, come across as bloated, ponderous and, at times, detached, with Win Butler and Co. so intent on motivating the brain (the lyrics are rooted in Kierkegaard’s writings about a “reflective age”) and the body (there’s a heavy rhythmic element stringing together the album’s 14 cuts) that they nearly forget about the heart.

Here, however, songs like “Reflektor” and “Flashbulb Eyes” popped, driven by a trio of percussionists who powered the music and helped conjure images of the Talking Heads jamming out at Haiti’s Carnival of Flowers. “We Exist,” in turn, built around a rubbery bassline that sounded as though it were on loan from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” while a raucous “No Cars Go” drifted from noisy rock interludes to more orchestral passages to a closing group sing-along that gradually spilled off of the stage and into the large, appreciative audience.

Though the band generally remained gymnast-limber, there were times the music stiffened. The stodgy “Joan of Arc,” for one, nestled as it were after a quartet of shimmying, shimmering tunes, moved with all the grace of an old, wooden battleship. Similar rigor mortis settled into “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus),” a meandering turn where Butler and wife Regine Chassagne chanted “It’s never over” so many times it started to read as gospel truth.

Better were songs like the driving “Normal Person,” where Butler, who wore a black and white bovine-print jacket in an apparent nod to the Midwest setting, delivered lines about embracing one’s uniqueness as Chassagne danced like some kind of cross between Elaine Benes and an extra from Madonna’s “Vogue” video, and a spirited cover of Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge." Here the frontman hurled his words from beneath a papier mache Pope Francis bobblehead mask while his bandmates locked into a punkish scrawl as raw and scrappy as could be expected from a Grammy-winning 12-piece. It was a thrilling moment on an evening filled with them, and further proof Arcade Fire has learned breaking a sweat can be every bit as rewarding as sweating that next artistic breakthrough.

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