Arcade Fire arrived at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night with a chip on their shoulders.
After opening sets from Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Grandmaster Flash, The Garden’s video screens played infomercial-style advertisements for faux merchandise like Creature Comfort cereal and Electric Blue eye drops (both nods to songs off the band’s latest record). Every so often, a video of an over-the-top cartoon cowboy — with his face psychedelically obscured by an outer space scene — would interrupt the ads to hype up the crowd.
These hokey flourishes were an extension of Arcade Fire’s tongue-in-cheek rollout for “Everything Now,” their latest album that dropped in July. Critics haven’t been kind to the record, new territory for one of the most consistently acclaimed bands of the 21st century. For the first time in a long time, it felt as if Arcade Fire had something to prove.
So it was fitting that the stage, which was in the center of the crowd, resembled a boxing ring. As Arcade Fire entered, decked out in matching starter jackets, a PA announcer proclaimed them “the undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champions of the world.”
The band launched right into “Everything Now,” the polarizing disco single and title track off the new record. Rather than facing in one direction, members of the sprawling band spread out around the ring for a true “theater-in-the-round” performance as frontman Win Butler stood in the center on a rotating platform. “Signs of Life,” another new song, followed, accentuated by the two massive disco balls that flanked the stage.
But it wasn’t long before the band diverted from the new stuff, delivering a gut-wrenching “Rebellion (Lies)” off their debut album Funeral. While Arcade Fire has creatively extended itself to incorporate electronic, worldbeat and disco, they began in earnest as a chamber pop powerhouse.
Without taking a breath, the riff for “Here Comes the Night Time” off 2013’s “Reflektor” took over and the band was joined on stage during the song’s breakdown by Haitian dancers with shiny red headpieces and flowy, flowery dresses.
“Let’s give it up for immigration!” Butler shouted as the song came to a close, issuing a not-so-veiled jab at the recent rise in anti-immigrant sentiment.
With that, Butler’s wife and bandmate Régine Chassagne began to sing a poignant “Haiti.” Chassagne’s parents were Haitians who immigrated to Montreal during the dictatorship of François Duvalier.
Arcade Fire performed in a makeshift boxing ring for an immersive, 360-degree experience.
(Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
Before launching into a propulsive “No Cars Go,” Butler took a moment to express his appreciation for the crowd. “This is kind of our dream for this whole tour,” Butler said.
For “Neon Bible,” the band asked the audience to turn on their phone flashlights, setting a gorgeous backdrop to the delicate title track from their 2007 album.
The band dedicated “The Suburbs” to those affected by Hurricane Harvey, promoting the Hand in Hand telethon behind them on stage. Win and his brother Will grew up near Houston, and Win thanked the crowd for “sharing that solidarity.”
For the encore, Win walked through the crowd as karaoke lyrics for “We Don’t Deserve Love” scrolled on screens and Regine hit bottles with silver spoons from the stage. Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined the band for the anthemic “Wake Up,” which packs as much of a punch now as it has for the past 10 years.
Will Butler beckons to the MSG audience.
(Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
With the house lights turned all the way up, Arcade Fire exited the stage, but the show hadn’t truly concluded yet. As the crowd continued to chant the “Oh” chorus from “Wake Up,” the two bands slowly marched through the crowd.
What first began as something of a challenge — pugilists preparing for a heavyweight bout — ended as a celebration of the best working rock band in the world.
Intro: Everything Now (Continued)
Signs of Life
Here Comes the Night Time
No Cars Go
Put Your Money on Me
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
The Suburbs (Continued)
Ready to Start
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
We Don’t Deserve Love
Everything Now (Continued) (withPreservation Hall Jazz Band)
Wake Up (withPreservation Hall Jazz Band)
Wake Up Chorus/ Stand By Me (withPreservation Hall Jazz Band)