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MUSIC REVIEW

Arcade Fire keeps the mood light with full-tilt theatrics

By Adam Conner-Simons
Globe Correspondent / August 3, 2010

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The perception of pretension has haunted Arcade Fire since the hype machine surrounding its 2004 debut, “Funeral,’’ first kicked into high gear. Admittedly, with its affinity for parenthetical song titles, obscure instruments, and the occasional warnings against impending apocalypse, the Montreal-based septet can often come off as consciously self-serious.

Yet Sunday’s performance at Bank of America Pavilion, which marked the start of the seven-city US leg of Arcade Fire’s summer tour, confirmed that the outfit is unequivocally earnest in its seemingly contradictory ambitions to meld big hooks with bracingly intimate lyrical confessions. It’s high-concept art, via rousing, heart-on-sleeve rock anthems.

The 90-minute set zigzagged between cuts from “Funeral,’’ 2007’s “Neon Bible,’’ and the new record, “The Suburbs’’ (out today). In contrast to the group’s strained, pressure-filled “Neon Bible’’ tour, Sunday’s appearance found Win Butler and company looking downright giddy as they clapped hands, pounded on tambourines, and bounced around the stage.

Band members switched off on a grab bag of accordions, xylophones, violins, and other instruments that, unfortunately, were mostly drowned out by the chugging bass and layers of guitar feedback. A rotating stable of drummers maintained a tensely locked rhythm throughout, though the playful “Haiti’’ showcased a more sprightly percussive touch even as it delved into darker subject matter.

To the inevitable disappointment of many fans, Arcade Fire harbored no reservations about playing tracks from “The Suburbs,’’ even while it still seemed to be working out how to translate the songs’ understated confidence to a live setting. None of the tunes could match the immediacy of “Funeral’’: The title track lost some of its breezy acoustics in concert, and “We Used to Wait’’ didn’t display the intense dynamics that the promising album version suggests. Elsewhere, Régine Chassagne’s urgent vocals proved a welcome respite from Butler’s weighty warblings on the atmospheric synth-pop on “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),’’ which the group had just debuted the night before in Montreal.

Butler recognized the crowd’s hesitancy regarding the most-recent material. “Sorry to confuse you with all of these new songs,’’ he mumbled with a sheepish smile after a subdued stretch of “Suburbs’’ tracks. The band wisely returned to its back catalog at the end of the set with “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)’’ and “Rebellion (Lies)’’ before delivering a euphoric encore of “Keep the Car Running’’ and “Wake Up.’’ On the latter, the lethargic crowd finally burst to life, roaring appreciatively and hitting all the “whoa-ohs’’ in the right places. Among a sea of outstretched hands, the skipping bassline and two-step drums temporarily turned the amphitheater into a massive dance party. Even the most hardened hipster would have had a difficult time resisting Arcade Fire’s gleeful, pretense-free charms.

Trying to hold its own next to such a spectacle was the Vancouver-based quartet Young Galaxy, whose punchy dream-pop melodies served as an energetic if comparatively mild-mannered appetizer to Arcade Fire’s full-tilt theatrics.

Adam Conner-Simons can be reached at adam.connersimons@yahoo.com.

ARCADE FIRE

With: Young Galaxy

At: Bank of America Pavilion, Sunday