A Fire Burns On Randall's Island
    • FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2007

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    Despite the strange flux of unused tickets surrounding the event, last Saturday’s Arcade Fire/LCD Soundsystem show at Randall’s Island was flooded with an eclectic mix of concert-goers, and though the average age was probably somewhere around the legal age for renting a car, there were some elder fans hanging around among the crowd, and not just waiting for their teenage children. With lax restrictions on bags and food, the otherwise depressing field that is Icahn Stadium became a large picnic grounds, and the general mellowness of the bill inspired the crowd to retain a more porous structure than, say, when Rage Against the Machine performed for Rock the Bells at the same venue back in July.

    Wild Light, a Boston band with a growing fan base, kicked things off, followed by Les Savy Fav, Blonde Redhead, and LCD Soundsystem batting at cleanup. By the time I got settled in, Blonde Redhead was on, and the sun had already begun to set, casting a purplish glow across the sky that complemented the stage lights, which were set for B.R.’s unassuming, contemplative sound. Reports of Les Savy Fav’s performance were all highly complimentary, and I can only assume that Wild Light performed admirably in their unenviable spot as the band playing while you look for a parking spot. Then, when LCD Soundsystem came on, something phenomenal happened.

    They may have been playing their second song, which means that they were probably close to fifteen minutes into their set, and I completely forgot that Arcade Fire was headlining this show. Indeed, given the production values for each band during their performance, it could have been easy for anyone during any of the performances to forget that other acts were slated for the rest of the night. This might sound like a bit of an over-exaggeration, but consider “festival” concerts like Lollapalooza, Tibetan Freedom, or Warped Tour, and their buffet-style approach to performances. They pile on names for 30-45 minute sets in the classic illusion that a few bites of multiple things beats one solid dish because you get more taste. Consider even shows where the opening act for the headliner is so big that they could headline their own concert at the same venue. More often than one would think, the opener gives a muted performance, as if they are miffed at having to play second fiddle. The Randall’s Island show, in contrast, featured five acts that all seemed overjoyed to be exactly where they were, and performed as though everyone in the crowd had come to see them.

    Though LCD frontman James Murphy sometimes worked a little too hard to win the crowd over between sets with his meandering anecdotes about knee injuries, the performances, which heavily featured tracks from Sound of Silver, were beyond hypnotic. For most of the songs, some of the Arcade Fire folks came out to lend a hand on backup, which speaks to the connection these groups developed on their tour together. Highlights from the set were “Someone Great” (which is just a superb song, live or not), “North American Scum”, “Us V Them”, “Yeah”, and the fitting “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”, which transcended its ballad form amid a field of New Yorkers lounging on blankets or standing, steeped in the calm of one of the last summer nights.

    While LCD Soundsystem’s music washed over the audience in waves of layers that drew people in, the Arcade Fire’s set had more of a congregational nature. Prior to appearing, two large screens played clips of televangelists, and the now-familiar neon bible graphic (otherwise known as the Scholastic Books logo) graced the stage both in the backdrop and set up in small globes around the stage, as though a séance was planned for later in the night. None of this is anything new for an Arcade Fire show, though, especially on this tour. Once Win Butler and Co. took the stage, the concert cum Christian revival began, with elevating organ pieces and choruses that seemed to strive constantly for enlightenment. For anyone who hasn’t seen them play before, this theatrical pomp is always balanced by an almost pagan rite onstage. Band members are often seen dancing around, rotating on instruments between songs like a musical volleyball team, and employing handheld loudspeakers throughout the performance. Saturday’s show was no different, and multi-instrumentalist Will Butler, also known as “that guy who runs around hitting things on stage” was inspired to climb halfway up the nearby scaffolding with a drum during “Rebellion”, like a mini Rock Kong.

    As for the song selection, there was a good mix between Neon Bible and Funeral, as well as new songs that I assume will be released on the new album; on first listen, they don’t sound like they will disappoint.

    It can be argued that the Arcade Fire, while giving the inspired performance that they are known for, might not have been served well by the outdoor venue, since the sheer space that enhanced the presence of the music also detracted from the stage presence of the band, but there were multiple other elements that more than made up the difference. The two giant screens on either side, for example, were more than just visual aids for those in the back. Using well-directed camera work and effects like superimposition, they added an extra dimension beyond what was available to the naked eye. And of course, there was the transforming energy that came from thousands of people all congregating for a night on a deserted island, singing along to every song. Then, of course, there’s the video going around on YouTube, where those who prematurely left the venue apparently missed out on an impromptu one-song encore, a cover of Violent Femmes’ “Kiss Off” on the grass, using only handheld instruments and a loudspeaker as a microphone. Meanwhile the “big surprise” that Arcade Fire promised at www.beonlineb.com for the same date turned out to be nothing more than an interactive animated video that held my attention for about a minute. The real surprise was that a concert of great acts exceeded our expectations, and for one night at the end of the summer we were all actually a part of something special. - Eric Silver

    Photography found HERE and HERE.

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