If you’re going to ask your fans to dress up in formal attire to attend your concert in a dated basketball arena, you probably shouldn’t be the one to poke fun at the venue.
“This song is perfect for the Target Center; it’s called ‘The Suburbs,’ ” Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler wise-cracked a half-hour into his band’s nearly two-hour performance Saturday at the home of the Timberwolves. Later in the song — an ode to American blahness — he added a line about “singing in a giant corporate arena with all my friends.”
Butler’s localized barbs would have come off as hypocritical and hopelessly pretentious, except for one thing: His Montreal-reared band, which won the album of the year award at the 2011 Grammys, took to its first local arena concert like fire takes to gas; or like Canadians to the Tim Horton’s food chain. In fact, Saturday’s nearly two-hour set proved Arcade Fire might be the most arena-ready band to come out of the hip punk-weaned underground since U2.
Likewise, Arcade Fire’s pre-tour request for fans to “please wear formal attire or costume” would have gone down sourly had the band not dressed up the stage in equal amounts of glitz and glamor.
Butler & Co. brought a truly shimmering party vibe with them Saturday, with mirror-ball-style props and a white-washed stage along with extra percussionists and the disco-ized sound of the band’s new double-album, “Reflektor.” All this, from the indie-rock darlings who have sometimes been written off as melodramatic and dour.
A surprising number of fans adhered to the costume request. Besides formal attire, audience members ranging from teenagers to middle-aged hipsters also came dressed as a Teletubby, a female Elvis or in kitschy disco wear. With help from a Groupon discount deal and incessant 89.3 the Current promotion, around 10,000 people showed in the end (a third more than the more radio-driven Kings of Leon drew two nights earlier).
As if they had been planning their Twin Cities arena debut for a decade now — which is how long ago Arcade Fire first played Minneapolis, at the 400 Bar — the band members immediately approached the big room with big ideas. The concert started with Butler and his wife, singer/multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne, singing “Your Body Is a Cage” on a small levitating stage opposite the main stage. Faster than you can say, “Take that, Bon Jovi,” the band co-leaders ran over to the big stage with the rest of the group to segue straight into the proper show-opener, “Reflektor,” which is the title track of their new album.
In the same vein of LCD Soundsystem — the New York dance-rock band led by “Reflektor” co-producer James Murphy — the bouncier songs from the new record went over with a lot more energy and power in concert. “Flashbulb Eyes” showed the influence Chassagne’s roots with steel-pan and conga drums. “We Exist” offered an ’80s-Bowie nervy groove and was preceded with an anti-homophobia speech, one of many times Butler showed traces of Bono (yes, that’s a compliment).
Amid all the new grandeur, though, the band maintained its old Clash-influenced feisty bombast. “Ready to Start,” “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” and the show-finale “Wake Up” reiterated the visceral energy of the band’s early albums, as did the rockiest of the new songs, “Joan of Arc.”
Before “Wake Up,” the encore got off to a bizarre start with a fake band dancing on the small stage in oversized-head masks — one of which Butler wore into the crowd two hours earlier during opener Dan Deacon’s orchestrate dance circle, earning cheers when he took it off.
Butler wore another mask of sorts, a box made of video screens showing the faces of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Prince, as the band played a dark-tinted cover Prince’s “Controversy” to properly kick off the encore. Like the Target-targeted rendition of “The Suburbs,” this particular homage to Minnesota was tinged with irony — but it also seriously rocked in ways that could keep Arcade Fire an arena band long enough to play the other local arena named after an energy company. Can’t wait to hear Butler’s quips then.
See the full set list at startribune.com/artcetera