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Arcade Fire's Brilliant Blaze at UIC

By Kim Bellware in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 26, 2011 9:00PM

Ending a string of three full-house performances at UIC Pavillion Monday night, Arcade Fire's Win Butler made a promise to the crowd:

"Tonight, we're going to leave everything on the stage."

For a band whose acclaim has risen as high as this Montreal-based group's has--playing in a venue as large as UIC Pavillon, to boot--we were intrigued to find out what that might look and sound like. By the end of their galvanizing 90-minute set, Butler and company had kept their promise. Arcade Fire's intense performance left us feeling nothing short of thrilled.

Since the 2004 release of Funeral, the band has barely made a stray step in their upward climb. The two albums that followed, most recently last summer's The Suburbs, matched or surpassed their breakthrough debut in acclaim. The band steadily progressed from playing in old Canadian churches to large summer festivals. The NFL tapped their music for commercials, as did Spike Jonze for his film. They picked up the Grammy for Album of the Year this February, completing their crossover into the mainstream's consciousness (despite the likes of Kathie Lee and Rosie O'Donnell not knowing who they are).

There's a common perception that a band's quality is inversely proportional to how big they get (those would be your "I prefer their early stuff" friends). Whether there's any truth to the idea, Arcade Fire gave us an example of how "big," popular bands can also be great and uncompromising bands.

Roughly half of the night was spent on material from The Suburbs, beginning with the opener, "Ready to Start." Every song in their set was played forcefully and spot-on, but there was a noticeable difference in atmosphere between the current songs and the older material. The band seemed more invigorated by their older tracks of "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," "Intervention," and "Rebellion (Lies)," the three songs in particular standing out as the most visceral of the night.

As a band full of multi-instrumentalists, members switched on and off various duties all night in an impressively seamless fashion. Butler handled the bulk of lead vocals, sharing the rest of the work with wife, Régine Chassagne, both sounding strong and surprisingly fresh despite belting all0out for a third straight night. The vocal cohesiveness of group as an ensemble--particularly the band members responsible for the choruses of beautiful "ahhhs" and "ooooohs"--does not go unnoticed, and is what has made Arcade Fire sound so pure and polished but never canned.

The crowd was in high-energy mode after The National's rock-solid set, with a floor full of dancers twirling and thrashing to tracks like "Rococo" and "Month of May." The band was equally physical, their genuine (but quite over-the-top) spaz-outs making the evening feel like one big party (William Butler, for his part, is one of the few percussionsist we've seen who can make playing a xylophone look like an out-of-body experience).

UIC proved to be a good backdrop for the evening, though a band as popular as Arcade Fire can by now command audiences large enough to fill bigger arenas. The band had expanded their stage setup a bit since their last tour, with flags adorning the stage, topped by a huge video screen and video marquee that showed changing graphics and old movie footage transposed with live video of the band. During several of the songs off of The Suburbs, the audience see clips from the movie the band has been working on with Spike Jonze.

Visually striking and sonically excellent, Arcade Fire's last show at UIC proved that when it comes to a band's quality and success, bigger and better don't have to be mutually exclusive terms.

Full Set List:
Ready to Start
Keep the Car Running
Empty Room
Suburban War
The Suburbs
The Suburbs (Continued)
Month of May
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
No Cars Go
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
We Used to Wait
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Rebellion (Lies)

Wake Up
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)