Even in an arena that has seen a levitating stage (Kanye West), a giant video screen floor (Chris Brown), a flying pig (Roger Waters) and a zombie-accompanied Mayan temple (Iron Maiden) over the past year, Xcel Energy Center hasn’t hosted a production setup quite as unique and clever as the one Arcade Fire brought to town Sunday night.
The exuberant and artful Canadian rock troupe — led by husband-and-wife team Win Butler and Régine Chassagne — delivered a two-hour-plus in-the-round performance in the middle of the St. Paul arena on a stage shaped like a boxing ring. They even brought along ropes and a bell, all complemented by a fast-swinging, hard-impacting array of extra lighting and visual adornments to match the high-energy performances.
The end results were quite dizzying and exhausting, like a real boxing match, although the fact that the group only drew about 5,000 to the arena felt like something of a hard blow.
Adding old-school indie-cred (if not ticket sales) to the show, Arcade Fire brought along one of the most influential bands of the ’90s alt-rock wave, the Breeders, led by ex-Pixies bassist Kim Deal and her sister Kelley Deal, a former Twin Cities resident.
The more veteran openers — on their first night of the tour — played entirely under dark lights but still lit up the 5,000 fans. Their 1993 hit “Cannonball” coolly segued into the Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” and the new single “Wait in the Car” confirmed they’re still very much a contender.
Arcade Fire took the boxing gimmick to the max, even walking to the stage under a spotlight as an announcer read off the group’s weight (2,100 pounds for the nine-member touring lineup). After crossing through the ropes, they swung straight into the title track and first single off their new record, “Everything Now,” a hopeful anthem with the breezy, buoyant dance grooves that permeate the album.
Response to “Everything Now” has been unusually tepid for the longtime critics’ darlings, which probably helped explain the lowered turnout. Not much of a case was made for new songs in concert, either.
Momentum conspicuously stalled a half-hour into the set with the slow-grinding “Electric Blue” and Mary Poppins sing-songy “Put Your Money on Me.” The semi-acoustic strummer “We Don’t Deserve Love” similarly made for a lukewarm encore kickoff, too.
Sunday’s crowd seemed to be whittled down to mostly just old-school fans, as songs off the band’s first two albums were all ecstatically received. The members played them with their usual ebullience, too.
Early in the set, the drama meter hit a high level with Chassagne’s elegant ode to her homeland, “Haiti.” That led into an especially high-adrenaline “No Cars Go,” which Butler dedicated to “anyone that saw us at First Avenue” (in 2005). Later on, “Neon Bible” serenely played to a sea of cellphone lights, and “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” sparked a big mid-show singalong.
Whenever Arcade Fire hit its stride on Sunday, the stage production soared, too. The hardworking camera crew captured close-ups of the band at rapidly alternating angles working equally hard. One video screen would show Chassagne’s fingers plunking hard on a keyboard, for instance, while another offered drummer Jeremy Gara banging away joyously.
Best of all, as the stage lights returned to the boxing-ring motif for the finale “Wake Up,” the band members bounded out of the ring one by one and played the song all the way into the dressing room, walking off like champions.
The one bright spot from the latest album, “Creature Comfort,” made for a raucous and lyrically provocative moment just before the encore break, hitting home the new record’s themes lambasting U.S. consumerism and Kardashian-led morals. Those ideas also played out in funny “Made for TV”-esque video commercials that played before the band took the stage.
Ironically, the high production value of Sunday’s show compared to the low turnout suggested little if any money was made off the concert, but the fans who did show up were certainly not shortchanged.
Here's Arcade Fire's set list from the X:
Signs of Life
Here Comes the Night Time
No Cars Go
Put Your Money on Me
My Body Is a Cage
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)