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Arcade Fire Ignites The United Center

By Jessica Mlinaric in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 29, 2014 4:00PM

It’s laughable to imagine that Win Butler has ever been bored, as he sings on “The Suburbs.” He and Arcade Fire wrapped up a pair of performances at the United Center last night in a performance that was anything but banal.

As evidenced by the promotions surrounding last year’s release of Reflektor, the band had more than a concert in mind for the arena-packing Reflektor Tour. It was an event. Arcade Fire’s exuberant performance was accompanied by a fake band of characters with giant papier-mâché heads, a human disco ball in a mirrored costume, strutting dancers, ever-changing sets, cascading balloons, and confetti cannons.

Devo set the stage with three costume changes themselves. In a jaunty set that included “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA,” “Gates of Steel,” and “Freedom of Choice” the New Wave innovators demonstrated that devolution is as relevant as ever. In an homage to Arcade Fire, Devo closed “without an ounce of cynicism and something downright beautiful,” as Booji Boy delivered “Beautiful World.”

Dan Deacon kept things moving by directing a dance party from his setup on the floor. What started with some hesitant head nodding to his orchestral electronic offering unfolded into a boogie session led by the many crowd members wearing banana costumes and high-fiving en masse.

As Arcade Fire opened with “Reflektor,” one had to run a few counts of the musicians onstage to determine that the seven-piece had expanded to twelve (twelve!) for this tour. Part of the fun of a multi-instrumentalist band is marveling at the dexterity of scurrying across stage and instrument swapping. The appeal was in the sum of its parts in this case, as it was hard to identify the individual contributions of guitars, drums, pianos, violin, and organ in the mix. There was even trouble understanding frontman Butler at some points, although the crowd didn’t need direction in belting every lyric.

A brassy swagger was added by the addition of two horn players, and the intoxicating reverberations of Haitian drummers Tiwill Duprate and Diol Edmond all but stole the show on feverish tracks like the recent “Here Comes the Night Time” and Funeral throwback “Haiti.”

Wednesday night’s two-hour performance changed up the set list from Tuesday with no detectable lull as the Grammy Award winners powered through favorites like “Rebellion (Lies),” “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” and “We Used to Wait.” Butler led a crowd sing-along to cap off “The Suburbs” before erupting into “Ready to Start.” The ever magnetic Régine Chassagne reflected her energy back to the crowd with hand-held mirrors, yet the vitality of her dynamic lead on “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” which closed the regular set could have been better placed to turn up the dial earlier in the evening. Chassagne helmed an elevated platform on the floor for “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus).” Surrounded by writhing skeletons, she sang back to husband Butler on the main stage separated by the sea of bodies cast in pallid light between them.

Encores on this tour have featured homages to local music legends and guest appearances. While Tuesday’s crowd received a cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” last night’s audience was treated to an appearance from Mavis Staples. Staples Singers’ classic “This May Be The Last Time” started in a slow, stinging gospel style before bursting into a rollicking rendition more synonymous with the Rolling Stones’ version. Win Butler dropped to both knees to salute the legendary R&B dame, before Staples exited the stage.

Arcade Fire seems to have taken a page from the Chicago playbook of making “no small plans.” Often saddled with the “pretentious” epithet, their flights of fancy may be grandiose but they have the sound to back it up. It’s rare to watch an indie darling evolve into an arena act imbued with earnestness, but Arcade Fire seems to come fittingly into their own as they grow. Their call for attendees to wear fancy dress or costumes to the tour may have drawn media backlash, but watching a floor of full-length gowns and Venetian masks chant to “Wake Up” with their fists in the air is nothing if not anthemic.