concert reviews

Arcade Fire at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, Sunday 30 January 2005

The 9:30 club stage seemed too small for the eight musicians of the Arcade Fire, whose Sunday night concert operated according to the formula that constant movement and shouting in unison create a powerful show. The group's music centered on the beats: Three simultaneous rhythm guitars drilled power chords that were accented by pounding drums and the yelping vocals of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne. Two violinists filled in the gaps, bringing out melodies in songs that were otherwise just percussive.

Most of the musicians rotated instruments like a holiday gift exchange, sometimes throwing a tambourine from person to person between songs. But not everyone played an instrument: During most songs, one or two members of the group would grab a pair of drumsticks and pound on anything in sight, even wearing motorcycle helmets for extra protection.

These energetic gimmicks won over the capacity audience more often than not: By the end of the set, the crowd was clapping along to the bouncy rhythm of "Rebellion (Lies)" and pounding fists in the air as "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" disintegrated into musical mayhem. Despite the energy and chaos, the songs weren't very memorable, and Butler's vocals were murky and often unintelligible.

The last song of the night, "In the Backseat," concluded with all eight members wandering through the downstairs audience, waving their instruments in the air, oooh-ing the song's final chorus in unison as they made their way upstairs and through the balcony crowd back to their dressing rooms.

The group's haphazard movements on stage were fascinating to watch, and it's a miracle there were no collisions all night. While its simplistic musical style and histrionic vocals had little substance, the Arcade Fire is certainly to be admired for its extreme and unwavering physicality.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 1 February 2005
.: Selected discography: Funeral (Arcade Fire, 2004).