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February 2, 2005
It's not a very punk rock thing to admit, but I don't get to attend nearly as many shows as I did in my earlier, more impressionable days - becoming a father and husband changes things - so when daddy is able to get out of town and check out a good show, it's a cause for some real celebration. A recent trip in search of good music would take me a whole 120 miles and all of 2 hours across North Carolina from my home in Charlotte to the smoky mountains of Ashville, where the hottest band in the country, the Arcade Fire, were to grace us with their electrifying stage presence.

Now, first off, I must mention the venue at which my friend Drew and I have been dying to see ever since its opening, Orange Peel. This particular establishment has played host to the likes of the Flaming Lips, Interpol and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, so it's an indie hub of the glorious kind and the only place in the region to have any sort of true support for a variety of different music genres.

I also have to give the owners props for staffing the Orange Peel with the most professional bunch I have ever come across. Whoever thought of getting genuine, levelheaded people to pour me beer, take my coat and let me smoke my cigarettes outside is a genius. Most of the time I am greeted with a shmuck wearing a hardcore hoodie, waving his authority around like a straight-edger's microphone. But not at the Orange Peel; the place was clean and decorated with modern lighting, a large white, mod-looking bar, a glorious sound board and stage that would make the Arcade Fire sound all the more defined.

Just as Drew and I entered the doors to get our first pour of that sweet barley brew, the band took center stage right on time and started the night's proceedings with "Wake Up."

It was an electrifying moment when I realized that I was about to witness a ceremony of sorts, more than just a rock show. "Wake Up" was as much an anthem as an opener, and even as the Arcade Fire proceeded past all the 'Whoooa's' and excited crowd participation during the opening moments of the song, I noticed the band take command of their performance. All six of the musicians present, along with their their medley of instruments, were bobbing with the sheer assurance that the sold out crowd before them was savoring every line, inhaling the music and its romantic sound, and enjoying the flavor of the dynamic cast of colorful characters that make up the Arcade Fire.

The band appeared just the way I though they would, reminding me more of a retro cult than of a rock and roll band. All the men wore rusty looking suits, garb that probably pre-dated the birth dates of each member by a few years. The two ladies present, including the lovely Régine Chassagne, wore dresses which heightened the overall performance to a theatrical level, the artists' costumes allowing each performer to participate in a dramatic courtship between the audience and themselves, making sure the $10 for tickets were well spent.

The band moved through most of the songs found on their critically hyped album Funeral, as well as "No Cars Go," which is found on the tour EP. I was delighted to hear one of my favorite songs, "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)," in which William Butler added a snazzy drum signature through the vamped hook near the chorus. Butler's flourish furthered the flare of the composition and made the song even flashier. In fact, even the quieter moments found on Funeral were more heightened in their live performance and toyed with, even the slightest manipulation allowing the audience to feel what the band could only re-create through their live show. There wasn't a single minute wasted during the entire hour-long set of the Arcade Fire's vivid musical montage.

Towards the end of it all we were treated to a cover of the Talking Heads' "This Must Be The Place," an homage to a band that obviously influenced the Arcade Fire's musical outline. It was refreshing to hear the song done in the only way the Arcade Fire knew how - with reverence and high-spirited vitality.

After the band moved off stage, during the awkward encore break, it was obvious that they would return with little more than a few chants from the audience. One of my hunches came from the fact that album closer "In The Backseat," with which I heard was how the band had been ending their programs, hadn't made its way into the set. Sure enough, moments later the benevolent celestial voice that belongs to Régine became a connection between heaven and earth, slowly melting into the background as the audience's collective voice reverently sang backup to the delicate melody. "I like the peace/In the back seat/I don't have to drive/I don't have to speak." Nearing the end, the members of the Arcade Fire continued to sing in harmony, their voices becoming a haunting a cappella. When the music faded each of the band members formally turned and walked off the stage, still chanting, in single file procession, signaling that the Funeral had ended. In their exit, each member took with them a stage prop and a musical instrument small enough to be easily carried. I think I saw someone carrying an illuminated reindeer. As the sound in the air, left empty by the band's ending, was replaced by the din of the audience the band suddenly returned, not on stage but rather marching through the audience, still singing together in an orderly procession. As they paraded through the crowd the lights came down, the blackness signaling that the show had truly ended.

When the lights came up we figured we would try and meet some of the band members - and we were in fact greeted warmly by Régine, who Drew and I agreed reminded us of Judy Garland. We shared only a few words with her but she seemed extremely sincere, remarking about how she enjoyed the audience's reaction. Win Butler, the band's front man, seemed to have an air of eccentricity as he quietly handed out a few autographs for eager fans. His exhaustion was evident, his disposition diminished from the animated and engaging stage banter to a palpable frustration and perhaps even annoyance at autograph seeking fans and of being asked the same question night after night.

The Arcade Fire's live performance carries a weight unlike most others, effectively conveying the theme of death and reverence from their album. Drew and I both felt like we in fact attended a funeral that night. It was one of the most captivating shows I have ever witnessed, the venue and the company I was in combining to make the actual show itself even more appealing.

I look forward to seeing the band again, and if the Arcade Fire continues to have an underlying theme to their live performances which feeds off of their recorded energy I can only hope that their next release will be called Naked Canadian Free Beer Dance Party.

SEE ALSO: www.arcadefire.com
SEE ALSO: www.mergerecords.com

--
Mark Taylor
A senior LAS staff writer, Mark Taylor is a 29 year old father of a 5 year old son and husband to a wife of 6 years, living the simple life in a small suburb of Charlotte, NC.

See other articles by Mark Taylor.

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