|Photo courtesy of K.C. Douglas|
Ukrainian Culture Center
February 11, 2011
To say that Arcade Fire had a good week would be a bit of an understatement. As unforgettable as the last several days have been for them, it has been equally memorable for me. I started crafting this post in my head on Friday morning, when I found out for sure that my name was 1 of about 500 on a list to see a secret show at the unlikeliest of venues. In a word, the feeling that comes to mind most when recalling Friday night and the days that followed is lucky. I feel lucky to have incredible friends, one of whom camped out over night on the streets of Downtown Long Beach for a shot at tickets. I’m lucky to have seen a show that was amazing on so many levels its hard to express. I’m lucky to have shared such an intimate moment in time with a group of artists on the precipice of wildly unexpected worldwide acclaim.
Since Friday though, I’ve rewritten this in my head over and again. Not only because the show has already become legendary in my mind’s eye, but Arcade Fire then went out and won themselves a Grammy- for album of the year no less. I felt compelled to write about the significance of The Suburbs and what it means for the musical landscape to have such a haughty honor bestowed upon a band on an independent label. It’s all really pretty amazing and as far as I can remember, unprecedented. While most people ask how a band they’ve never heard of won the biggest Grammy, I’ll contend that no one deserves it more. In my sphere of influence, Arcade Fire are the heavyweights, as opposed to the underdog no one saw coming.
It’s not easy to stay relevant in the indie universe. Sure, your loyal fan base is ridiculously intense, well informed and appreciative of actual artistry. They also happen to be insanely critical. They’re ready to dispose of you because you’re too big or because the cool blogs didn’t give your new album a perfect score. What Arcade Fire has done in the span of 6 years is special. They started their career with maybe the most applauded independent releases of the decade in Funeral, a seminal record that made them instant indie darlings. I’ve never seen a band become so important as quickly as they did. Funeral carried so much weight that nearly everyone expected their follow up to bomb. How many times have we seen the music blogosphere build up a buzz band only to brand them as a flash in the pan when they fail to recreate the magic? With Neon Bible, Arcade Fire clearly established that any type of success would not have an effect on their voice. By now, indie fans expected greatness from Arcade Fire. I can’t imagine the pressure felt by Win Butler and company when they set out to record The Suburbs. I can only point to one possible explanation as to how they managed to best themselves again, and it’s the reason that makes them so important: These wonderful people live to make music. It’s what gives them joy, it’s how they make sense of themselves and the world around them, and it’s what will keep them from succumbing to the pressures applied by both mainstream and independent music fans alike. Their music that stems from undeniable passion and talent is and will continue to be generation defining.
This is the context that made Friday’s show something so exciting. It was the feeling inside the tiny Ukrainian Culture Center though, that made the show so remarkable. It’s hard to say who was more ready for the show- the band or the assembled diehards. As Win Butler put it mid-set, “We can’t tell you how good it is for the spirit to play a small show like this.” I could write for days breaking down each song of the setlist, but the nuances of each song were simply overshadowed by vibe of the whole experience. It was 500 fans who simply wanted to be there more than anyone else singing every word at the top of their lungs. It was the planet’s best live band leaving everything out there, only to take the energy further by embracing and encouraging the collective magic in the air. It’s as if everyone in the room, both fans and band members, felt the magnitude of the moment. It was a communal celebration of a band that meant everything to everyone there, just before they took their talent to the world stage.
Maybe one day I’ll come back to this show and spend more time on each song. It would be easy to get caught up in paragraphs describing the show’s lightning rod of an opener in “Month of May” or the flash point when the band went 8-deep on vocals for “Rebellion.” I could dissect how much I love Regine Chassagne’s time in the spotlight and how I wish I could just relive the live experience of “Haiti” and “Sprawl II” every time I put the needle to the record. I could definitely write an entire post just about “Wake Up” and the flood of emotions that came with it, considering it will play a prominent role in my wedding next month. But for now, the entirety of the show is overwhelming enough. I just may be too clouded by the circumstance of it all to dive into details. Your favorite shows of all time just feel different. They take some time to digest. They stay with you, creeping into your subconscious unexpectedly and hitting replay on sounds and images as if to keep the experience as vivid as the night you lived it. For now, I’ll just be happy for being lucky enough to be there.
Super Annoying Guy(s) of the Show: None. Maybe for the first time ever. Oh, there were potentials...it was an all-ages show after all. Could have been the group of kids in front of us trying to out-cool each other before the show. Could have been the guy who smuggled in a bottle of champagne and then sprayed it over everyone. Could have been the dude behind me singing too loud and too often out of any sort of tune. In the end, everyone was there for the same thing and it was perfect.
Moral(s) of the Show: Sometimes you are lucky enough to be a part of an important moment. Soak it up, burn it into your brain, and share it with those around you.
*Note: There were no actual tickets for this show, hence no ticket stub photo. Our names were on a list, we got a wristband and we were in. Here’s my wristband, the wonderful little piece of suffocating plastic that secured my entrance into one of the best shows I’ll ever see.