Touring behind an album that references dated buildings, youthless streets and bygone eras, Arcade Fire could not have picked a much more fitting setting for its latest sold-out Twin Cities concert than ol' Roy Wilkins Auditorium on a dreary Wednesday night in St. Paul.
The acclaimed Canadian rockers had filled the Roy once before (in 2007). So not only did they know how to overcome the sonic challenges of the 1932 auditorium, they were smart enough to enlist it as a supporting cast member this time around. As if the eight instrument-swapping musicians presently in the band's touring lineup weren't enough.
Wednesday's show was the kickoff to a fall tour behind the band's third album (and first No. 1), "The Suburbs," a eulogy of sorts for boarded-up '70s-'80s suburbia and other lost signs of frontman Win Butler's flavorless youth -- signs like the Michelob banners on both sides of the Wilkins stage.
Playing before a backdrop of a highway overpass and a billboard that doubled as a video screen, Butler & Co. enlisted video footage of kids aimlessly riding bikes (in "The Suburbs" title track), post-war couples dancing ("Modern Man"), letters being sent ("We Used to Wait") and other pursuits as dated as the venue. As thematic concerts go, it actually made sense.
When the video screen wasn't filled with canned footage, it lit up with another old-school sight: Images of a modern-rock band playing its tails off with uninhibited, unfabricated, untrendy joy. Arcade Fire puts most of its arty, blogger-adored, motionless rock peers to shame in the live department, more U2 and Springsteen than Modest Mouse and Sufjan Stevens.
The most intense moments were scattered throughout the 90-minute set: "No Cars Go" two songs in; "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" blending straight into "Rebellion (Lies)" mid-show and the encore finale "Wake Up." The 5,200 fans certainly were awake.
The band's St. Paul date followed a three-week break, which may have earned us even a little more energy and enthusiasm. "Month of May," for instance, was amped up on Clash-like ferocity. Co-leader Régine Chassagne, Butler's wife, also sang with extra flair and emotion in "Haiti" -- though that also might have come from the woeful state of her native country ($1 per ticket went to relief efforts).
The one letdown in the show were song choices off the new album: Drab downers such as "Deep Blue" and "We Used to Wait" instead of the anthemic, up-tempo rockers "City With No Children" and "Empty Room." Maybe Arcade Fire is saving those for when it finally, deservedly plays next door at Xcel Energy Center.
Many fans got there early enough (and battled the Wild's preseason opener traffic) to see Arizona-reared borderland ensemble Calexico in the opening slot. The mariachi-flavored folk-rock band offered up elegant, sun-baked ballads that belied the Wilkins' rough edges and Wednesday's dreary weather. Highlights in its set included a fresh update of its Iron & Wine collaboration, "He Lays in the Reins," plus a horn-blown cover of Love's acid-rock classic "Alone Again Or."
See Arcade Fire's set list at startribune.com/artcetera
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658