In the modern indie rock world, you could argue that no band is more beloved than Arcade Fire. They're a band that Pitchfork.com gushes over in its most flowery language, that hipsters and nonhipsters alike (mostly) agree on, and that actually still gets people excited when a new album drops. And, as they showed at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Monday night, they're also a band that puts on a killer live show.
Arcade Fire, who for each concert has been including a cover song associated with that locale, started off with the Dead Kennedys song "California Uber Alles" with frontman Win Butler wearing a cardboard cutout face of Gov. Jerry Brown, who is referenced in the song. This seemed a bit mystifying to the audience, who either didn't seem to know the song or were perplexed about why they chose to cover a band from a city named after the wrong saint — San Francisco instead of Santa Barbara.
Adding to the bizarreness was the fact that there were onstage dancers with oversized bobblehead masks of the real band members.
But, for better or worse, this song lasted only a minute or so, at which point they moved on to the fitting "Here Comes the Night Time" from their latest album, Reflektor. This started off the Arcade Fire material with a bang, literally, as cannons launched a confetti storm into the pit.
This was the first of many songs from Reflektor, whose name provided motivation for the mirror-themed stage set. Highlights from this album included the title track, "Flashbulb Eyes," during which Butler commandeered a cell phone from a person in the front and shot a bit of video of the band, the dancey "Afterlife" with a guy in a mirrored suit in the spotlight out beyond the pit, and "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)," which had Butler's wife (and one of several multi-instrumentalists in the band), Regine Chassagne, singing out beyond the pit as a guy in a skeleton suit slowly grooved along.
But it was the band's older songs that really got the crowd excited.
A Suburbs mini-set kicked off with the rockin' "Month of May," which had a cool video cutting between the live band members on the LEDs behind the stage. The song "The Suburbs (Continued)" got the crowd singing along, and they closed with one of their best songs, "Ready to Start."
Their first album, Funeral, was also nicely represented with "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" and the show closer "Wake Up," which again had the crowd singing along and included another confetti storm. For many of us, these are the songs what we think of when we think of Arcade Fire.
Although Butler tended to draw most of the attention — he is big both as a presence and physically (Tina Fey once called him "some kind of hipster Paul Bunyan") — there were a total of 12 band members, including the aforementioned Chassagne, Butler's brother Will, two guys playing congas and Owen Pallett on violin.
Speaking of Pallett, he opened the evening with his looped violin and keyboard creations, mostly accompanied by a guitarist and a drummer. Pallett got the local saint right with an aborted cover of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," a song that it turns out he has thought quite a bit about.
OK, technically Katy is from Goleta, but close enough.
The evening's second opener was Dan Deacon, who summoned exuberant bleeps and blips from his collection of effects units. As a bonus, he got the people in the pit to participate in a dance contest and to create a human tunnel with their outstretched arms.
Butler also encouraged the audience to participate in his own way, exclaiming early on that, "People don't usually sit at our shows."
And why would you sit, when the biggest indie rock band of this era is in town?
California Uber Alles (Dead Kennedys song)
Here Comes the Night Time
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Joan of Arc
Month of May
The Suburbs (Continued)
Ready to Start
Ocean of Noise
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
No Cars Go
It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
California (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song)
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.