Among the retired jerseys of Kidd, Williams, and Petrovic I took my seat above the snow line inside Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch Montreal art-rock ensemble Arcade Fire wrap up their three-night residency two weekends ago. I purchased the ticket at a discount on Groupon the week before as a means of (hopefully) closing a nine-year-old wound incurred when I skipped an Arcade Fire show, for which I had tickets, because I did not want to drive alone to New Orleans. Just typing that sentence makes me shake my head.
Seeing Arcade Fire four albums and 10 years into their career at the Brooklyn Nets basketball arena, as opposed to on the floor performing their first album at the House of Blues in New Orleans, would need to suffice on this August night. Alas, when I arrived at my section, seated parallel to the left of the stage, I couldn’t help but feel a wee bit of regret. There were seats, for one. And they were a football field from the stage. I held a $5 cup of Coke in one hand and a $7 bucket of cheese popcorn in the other. The two combined accounted for the price of one beer, enough to make any concert a sober experience.
Credit Arcade Fire and their tremendous songbook for erasing my outrage at beer prices and disappointment at my seat location. They are an arena band now. Connecting with the back row is, in many ways, as important as connecting with the front. And from where I was standing – closer to the heavens than ever before at a concert – I’d say Win Butler and Co. did a damn good job, leaving me enthused about the Arcade Fire “experience” even if the conditions I experienced them in were less than my ideal. Dare I say next time Arcade Fire comes to town I would spring for $80 floor tickets? Yes, yes I would.
Hearing Arcade Fire play my favorite cuts from their debut, Funeral, such as “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” and “Rebellion (Lies)”, damn near drowned me in a wave of nostalgia for college, New Orleans, the revelatory feel I had the first time I heard the record, etc. It’s cheesy, I know, but these songs ceased being mere songs long ago – they’ve been anthems for my 20s whether I was driving cross-country or on a jam-packed subway in New York City. And to see the distant figures – Win in his blinding red shoes, Regine Chassagne in her baton girl outfit, younger brother Will Butler going apeshit like a chimp fed speed – performing live made the songs hit closer than ever, despite the physical distance.
Prior to starting the show Arcade Fire and its umpteen members marched through the crowd toward the stage like I had once seen the Roots do at a House of Blues in New Orleans. Once on-stage the band kicked off its set with the title track off 2013’s dance-y affair, Reflektor. I have quite a few friends who consider Reflektor Arcade Fire’s weakest release. Live, the record’s hit or miss nature transformed into a slam dunk exhibition, to borrow a basketball analogy, forcing me to view the record through different eyes. “We Exist”, complete with four men dancing on a platform in the center of the floor crowd, highlighted the Reflektor cuts.
Legendary Talking Heads frontman David Byrne joined Arcade Fire on-stage for a blink-and-you-missed-it cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” during the encore. Byrne’s cameo amounted to a footnote, blasphemy or no, because a few minutes later Arcade Fire enveloped the crowd into a collective euphoria with set closer “Wake Up”. I watched the hundreds on the floor covered in confetti with a touch of envy that I had not experienced the show through their eyes, in their feet. I experienced the show with my own ears though, the regret of nine years ago finally vanquished, and that was enough to make the night a glorious one.
Special shout-out to Arcade Fire for donating a portion of their live proceeds to Partners in Health in Haiti.