November 17, 2004

Last Rites

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The Arcade Fire’s debut, Funeral, recalls loved ones who have passed away through the lens of a past childhood. On Saturday night, The Arcade Fire revived the bombast of adolescence for a sold-out crowd at West Campus’ Noyes Community Center. The kids responded in kind — as kids, throwing their arms in the air, jumping up and down like rabid jackrabbits, dancing like lunatics.

The live show of The Arcade Fire manifests the idea that music’s sentiment is not limited to its lyrics or even its instrumentation and arrangement, but instead, it is through the actual physical playing of the music that these expressions become realized. In this way, the band did not limit themselves to the eighteen instruments they brought with them; the whole stage became part of their repertoire, as band members used drumsticks to furiously beat on the ceiling, the speakers and the floor to make their point. “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” involved multiple band members shouting into their microphones full-force: “Come on Alex, you can do it/ Come on Alex, there’s nothing to it!” The crowd joined in on the fun.

In an analogous way, the show’s exuberance derived from the content of the songs. After all, the band’s appropriately named debut is basically ten songs about dead people or dying or both. During the show, The Arcade Fire bred the type of excitement that only comes so near to death. For the occasion, the lead singer, Win Butler, wore a jacket with bones drawn on the back. His band used the casting off of such heady weight to make the crowd as light as a feather. On Saturday night, people floated on like Modest Mouse was more than just another passing fad.

The fact of the matter is that the kids loved the show, even as the temperature at Noyes trickled over the century mark. From my vantage point, the kids in the middle jumped up and down like pogo sticks, couples closer to the edges danced inventively and the guy next to me moved his hands illusively, completely stoned out of his mind. They were all covered in sweat. When “Rebellion (Lies)” kicked in, I turned to my friend and grinned broadly. “Now here’s the sun, it’s alright! (Lies! Lies!)” And then I thought:

Is this show like being five years old and playing with your hamster? Probably not because now he’s dead along with fifteen of his buddies. Or then, maybe it is, because life is death or death is life, or the knowledge of death makes life more exciting. But regardless, rock n’roll! Although I don’t think they made rock music for this! Je crois que non! Mais, the cuteness! Smile! Okay, maybe not cute. Smirk! The lead singer does look like Napoleon Dynamite. So how does he make my heart sing? It’s not the words or his hand in mine? Rawr! Instead of hooking them up to an electrical generator I’ll have them produce love for the whole world, okay?

Is ex-u-ber-ence a big enough word? When will the feeling end? I know, I’ve said it to myself many times before as well: Happiness is transient and is a metaphysical impossibility. But I can’t help but think: Somewhere into the show, I took that part of me — that part of me that doesn’t like things, and when my leg started shaking, I set it aside to my left. Giggle! Then I opened my mouth and sang along: “We’re just a million little gods causin’ rain storms, turnin’ every good thing to ruuuuustt…”

Archived article by Walter Chen
Sun Staff Writer