Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Arcade Fire / Webster Hall / February 1, 2005

Reviewed by Jason Gross

Thrilling as it is to see the next hot act strut its stuff on stage, it's not fun when they're not ready for the spotlight. Montreal's Arcade Fire has gotten mountains of critical praise heaped on them (and made their hometown a musical hotspot) and to their credit, it's warranted. One big stumbling block is Win Butler's singing, in the tradition of strained high Canadian vocals: more Geddy Lee than Neil Young or Joni Mitchell. Once you get past that, there's beautiful songwriting, soaring melodies and all those other great things that pop music is supposed to supply.

Some shuffling went on as to where they were going to play. First the Bowery Ballroom and now the bigger space of Webster Hall- it's owned by the same company so they naturally figured that once the band blew up, it would be better to move them to a bigger space and sell more tickets. Needless to say, the Webster show would have sold out in five minutes even if they weren't honoring the Bowery tickets. No surprise that many frigid college teens lined up outside begging for an extra ticket.

Granted that with most clubs, you have to give their start-times for bands a grain of salt but sometimes this gets ridiculous. Man Man went on a 1/2 hour later (acceptable) doing a mixture of the Residents, Uz Jsme Doma, Zappa and hillbilly blues- hey, it was definitely DIFFERENT and engaging as such. But then there was an hour gap to set up for the Fire. Then, they decided to put on a friend of theirs to sing us a few tunes for another 1/2 hour. I have nothing against fiddle players using pedal loops but if you're going to make a crowd stand around for hours, you should have the decency to show up and play. By this time, my girlfriend and I felt obliged to heckle (something I almost never do) and we weren't the only ones.

After a mercifully brief gap between the fiddler and band (including a clapping chant from the crowd to get the show started), AF finally graced us with their presence. It turns out that they were on the Conan O'Brien show earlier and that's why they were late. Just so you know, that show tapes in the same borough of Manhattan where Webster Hall resides and there's about a 1/2 hour cab ride between the two places. Also, just to note, late night TV programs actually tape in the late afternoon. Unless the band when to JFK airport for dinner and a nap, this still doesn't add up. My theory: they went out for some beers after the taping.

OK, to still give them the benefit of the doubt, this did start out well with them trouncing all over "Neighborhood #2." But it was pretty much downhill from there- the band looked and sounded tired. Ditto the audience. Once the witching hour hit, people started streaming out (this was a weeknight). Let's just say the people splitting didn't have smiles on their faces or songs in their heart. My girlfriend had to similarly leave, not exactly thrilled with the show. I ran into Jay Ruttenberg from Time Out and sure enough, his girlfriend had to leave also because of the late hour. Also, he said he was pretty under whelmed by the show. Butler noted to the crowd numerous times that they were a little too quiet, first jokingly and then a little more testy- when a singer can see how listless the audience is, that's not a good sign. Things did pick up near the end when they finished off with a medley of "Neighborhood #3" and "Rebellion"- it was so good that you wish the rest of the show was like that. By then, I was too worn out to see/hear what the encore was going to be like but I'd wager that they throw out their latest album opener "Neighborhood #1."

As they say, don't hate the player, hate the game. I heard a broadcast of a show that they did last October at the Museum of TV and Radio and they sounded great. I would say snatch up their album from last year if you haven't already (one of the best releases of 2004) and go to see them if they're not taping a program before the concert. After-show backstage banter: "Hey guys... uh... crappy show but wow, we were on national TV!"