For Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, “it seems like only yesterday” that his band was playing Spaceland. And yes, it’s only been a year-and-a-half since the Canadian band was playing clubs and is now coming a few thousand tickets short of selling out the Hollywood Bowl. What’s even more impressive than their swift rise is how deftly they have made the transition to being an arena-sized act.
It’s not like that much has changed, but then, Arcade Fire has always been a band with large ambitions. In retrospect, what seemed so spontaneous and chaotic in their early shows was really a band straining against the size of the room. At the Bowl, their third visit to Southern California this summer (following Coachella and a two-night run at the Greek in May) it’s obvious that an Arcade Fire show is as highly conceptualized and choreographed as such ’70s concert extravaganzas as Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs” and “Station to Station” tours.
While there is no overarching narrative (although the shifting relationship between faith, power and paranoia is a recurring theme) each song has it’s own bit of business: Richard Parry and Will Butler using their bodies as percussion instruments during “Laika,” Regine Chassagne coyly dancing the Charleston during “Haiti,” the hand movements that accompany the modern day Immigrant’s song (dedicated to “Governor Bush”) “Intervention,” the drums tossed in the air that punctuate “Tunnels.” And if there were any doubts that Win Butler is a student of ’70s rock pomp, they were dispelled when he knocked over the lighted poles that stood between the band and the aud before “Rebellion,” the set’s final song, just like Pink Floyd.
What keeps the show from turning fatally pretentious is sheer joy the band takes in performing. Unlike their flat perf at the Greek, the band played with a rousing energy at the Bowl, which sharpened the thrilling, intense tension between the modern rock band on the left side of the stage and the pawnshop orchestra that dominates the right. Epic songs such as “No Cars Go” and “Power Out” prove that no one writes a better French horn part for a rave-up than Win Butler. And while they can occasionally stumble — there are a few missed cues during the subterranean Dylanesque “(Antichrist Television Blues)” and there was a slight hiccup in the transition between “The Well” and “Wake Up,” it was obvious that Arcade Fire have finally grown into their ambition and are arguably the finest rock band working today.
LCD Soundsystem opened the show and they also showed how easily they can fill even the largest rooms. Strains of punk, new wave and house music combine to create an enthralling, propulsive sound; tunes such as “North American Scum” feel like “Life During Wartime” only with a real war in the background.
Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem play New York’s Randall’s Island Oct. 6.