Arcade Fire’s surprising success makes complete sense after seeing their heartwarming, energetic live show.
The Canadian cooperative — which featured 13 main band members at Barclays Center Friday night, though it swelled to 25 for the encores — has managed two No. 1 albums and an Album of the Year Grammy for “The Suburbs” without the benefit of a major label. It is currently on the tail end of a mostly sold-out arena tour, including a three-show run at Barclays Center ending Sunday night, without the benefit of a hit single. (The lead single and title track from last year’s “Reflektor” peaked at No. 99, even though the album hit No. 1.)
Their success not only shows how the music industry game plan of major labels and commercial radio is flawed, but also that it may be unnecessary. For nearly two hours, Arcade Fire’s singers Win Butler and Regine Chassagne led the crowd — many in formal attire or in costume, at the band’s request — through an impressive rock show influenced by everything from ’80s synth-pop to the stadium anthems of ’90s U2 to current world beat that could enhance nearly every rock station’s playlist if radio didn’t have so many nonmusical requirements of the artists it plays.
Arcade Fire clearly knows the power of a memorable melody, but it’s the way they weld them to weighty subjects that takes their music and their live show to the next level. Their current single “Afterlife” sounds even more epic in concert as it ties a synth-pop dance hook worthy of New Order to a discussion of the meaning of life and questions about the finality of death. The Talking Heads-driven angst of “Normal Person” is that much jumpier with dozens of performers onstage questioning mob mentality.
Though Butler and Chassagne often get chastised for being too serious, this show is their most lighthearted yet, with dancers wearing giant puppetheads of the band members and Butler taking time out to sing the melody of Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” before he ribs the audience about their need to have two basketball teams in one city.
And there is no mistaking the power of their longtime finale “Wake Up,” a rousing sing-along about the power of youth and following your heart. It’s a moment that will keep fans coming back for more — and bringing more friends with them — for decades to come.
SETLIST: Reflektor / Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) / Rebellion (Lies) / Joan of Arc / The Suburbs / Ready to Start / My Body Is a Cage / Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) / We Exist / Keep the Car Running / No Cars Go / Haiti / Afterlife / It's Never Over (Hey Orpheus) / Sprawl II // ENCORE: Hot Hot Hot (w/Buster Poindexter) / Here Comes the Night Time / Chariots of Fire / Normal Person / Wake Up