Review by Anthony Spak | @antspak
Photos by Lauren Barthold | @bylaurenb
Arcade Fire made a stop at the Palace of Auburn Hills this past Monday as part of their Reflektor Tour.
After releasing their fourth album Reflektor (see Sam Boyhtari’s review of the album below), the Canadian indie rockers have been touring across North America in support of their recent double LP. The tour has seen Arcade Fire upgrade from theatres and music halls to arenas and stadiums. The shift towards larger venues was surprising; while Arcade Fire is one of the biggest bands in the business riding the crest of a critically and commercially successful album, it is still odd to see them headlining the same stages as artists like Justin Timberlake and Beyonce.
The turnout for the show was indicative of their awkward transition into bigger venues. The Palace parking lot was desolate a half hour before the band went on. Dan Deacon opened, a one man electronic act whose most recent release America from 2012 brought a warmth and depth to the electronic music output by the massive EDM acts of that time. Deacon’s blend of furious rhythmic pulsations, synthesizer modulations, and “Alvin and the Chipmunks”-style vocals was energetic. However, neither his music nor his tacky pleas towards the crowd to “run at each other as fast as you can and high five in a loving manner” brought enough excitement to energize the audience of aging indie rock listeners.
Arcade Fire asked attendees to dress in “costumes/formal wear”, which was written on the concert’s tickets.
The crowd obliged, most deciding on formal wear. Most of the attendees appeared to have come straight from the office, dressed in business suits and ties. A few colorful costumes stood out, the most memorable being a dancing figure in a glowing metallic reflecting suit who appeared on a smaller stage opposite Arcade Fire while they played.
As Arcade Fire took the stage, the floor seating gained a few more members, but the arena was nowhere near sold out. This created a certain closeness within the Palace; the lack of a crowd gave those who did bother to come an intimate experience with a band in the midst of several interesting musical and aesthetical changes.
Front man Win Butler began the set by singing a few bars from “My Body Is A Cage”, a song from their 2007 album Neon Bible, then transitioning directly into the title track from Reflektor. The song, as well of the rest of the album, serves as a striking departure from the band’s past efforts: the band’s first three albums are definitive, quirky indie rock, relying on heavy guitar strumming based in folk music, with eccentric string and accordion parts sprinkled over top. These elements gave Arcade Fire a rustic tone and image that they relied on for three albums worth of music and overall band image.
With Reflektor and its subsequent tour, the band has made a total shift both aesthetically and musically while still managed to keep their quirky indie rock elements intact. Gone is the heavy presence of the folky outfits and instrumentations. The new Arcade Fire is interested in throwing a party where you can dance to their newfound blend of dark, Caribbean-infused disco that still holds a conscious. “We Exist” from Reflektor held all of these qualities. The most disco-indebted track on the new album, “We Exist” was a highlight of the show musically and emotionally. Butler explained the song was about living as a gay teen male in Jamaica and “Having the most awkward conversation possible with your father” about your sexuality that is not as widely accepted. With all of the controversy surrounding gay marriage in our country, and Michigan specifically with the recent federal trial that challenges our state’s ban on gay marriage, “We Exist” was made more relevant after Butler’s explanation of its meaning.
Having gone on a trip to Haiti after the devastating earthquakes the ravaged the country in 2010, the band became interested with Haitian culture and the upbeat, percussive music from the island country. The Haitian presence was impossible to miss during the show; the tropical stage scenery blended with the sounds of steel drums and other Caribbean percussion instruments by newly added Haitian percussionists Diol Edmond and Tiwill Duprate highlighted the group’s current obsession with foreign sounds and looks from a foreign country.
As the show continued, Butler announced that $1 from every ticket sale went towards funding for new doctors in Haiti. “Thousands of them died in recent storms,” he claimed, explaining the need for new medical professionals in the country that lost so much to a devastating natural disaster and is still recovering. “Arcade Fire Loves Haiti” buttons and shirts were also for sale at certain merchandise tables throughout the Palace, with a portion of the sales going towards relief funding for Haiti.
Arcade Fire played for almost an hour and a half, touching on a good blend of material from all four of their albums. Some of the older songs were updated stylistically to match the dancier feel of the new Arcade Fire, but this being said, every song still felt like an anthem. Every song was filled with the giant hooks the band is known for, filing the under filled arena with fist-pumping songs that were suited for the large building. Regardless of their slim ticket sales, Arcade Fire played as if they were performing in front of a sold out house.
Their encore was no exception. As Arcade Fire briefly exited the stage, “The Reflektors”, a band of actors costumed in enlarged head masks and tuxedos, stood on the smaller, opposite stage and mock-played instruments as Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” played over the arena. The crowd roared in appreciation of the hometown cover. Arcade Fire then returned to the stage, covering “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, another hit from the Saginaw-born Motown legend while Butler wore a box with screens on each side on his head as it flashed images of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
The vintage cover was followed by “Here Comes The Night Time”, the clearest homage to Haitian culture and music on Reflektor. The steel-drum lead of the song overtop of the rhythm section’s heavy half-time feel provide the audience with the deepest groove of the night. As confetti and streamers were launched over the standing section during the song’s breakdown, spectators danced with the most energy of any of the songs from the night. As “…Night Time” faded, Arcade Fire ended the show with their trademark closer “Wake Up”, the final track from 2004’s Funeral.