REVIEW: Arcade Fire a spectacle of light in Oakland

Arcade Fire

Photos: Steve Carlson

OAKLAND — Five albums in, it’s tough to think of Arcade Fire as the indie underdog the Canadian group was for its first few years. When the band rolled through town Saturday, it played not a small club but Oracle Arena, the pinnacle of massive stages in the Bay Area. And Arcade Fire didn’t disappoint on grandiosity.

Following a cacophony of classical music and its own hit “Wake Up,” sending a message that theirs belongs in the same league as the classics, Win Butler, Régine Chassagne and co. took the stage. It was situated as a boxing stage in the middle of the room, ropes and all. The band members played the role of prize-winning boxers, with a blaring voice declaring them as the “undefeated, uncontested champions of the world.”

But therein lied Arcade Fire’s second goal for the night: With only a two security-member escort to the stage, followed by a couple of photographers, the band was out to prove it was still of the people. That initial march was made directly through the crowd, which they pulled off in the beginning and several more times throughout the show, each successfully, without being grabbed, hugged or otherwise prevented from making it to their final destination, be it a simple stroll or to play and sing among fans. This band might have the most polite fans in rock and roll.

Later in the show, Butler would look back on the band’s first San Francisco show at Bottom of the Hill, and its second at Great American Music Hall.

But back to the spectacle. This was an in-the-round show on a square stage. Arcade Fire pulled that off, too. With seven or more musicians on stage at all times, the band played to each side throughout the show, rather than taking turns playing to one side at a time. At the center of the stage, a rotating platform held the drum set, a piano and a small spot for a person to stand. It also helped that this band is already accustomed to switching instruments, which gave all four sides a chance to see everyone equally.

Above the stage hung a light fixture of equal size with a bunch of moving doodads. Outward from the stage hung four smaller light fixtures covered in “Everything Now” banners. Those fixtures bounced light off each other, creating a sort of forcefield around the entire stage. And to both sides of the arena hung two massive mirrorballs that covered the rest of the massive room in speckles of light. There were lights everywhere else: on the floor, on the ceiling, on the stage. When they were on at the same time, it was truly a sight to behold.

Though Everything Now got the large share of the two-hour-long setlist, Arcade Fire’s other albums were equally represented. The band took the stage to new tracks “Everything Now” and “Signs of Life,” Funeral hit “Rebellion (Lies),” and Reflektor song “Here Comes the Night Time.” At that point, stagehands removed the boxing ring ropes, which had provided both an amusing oddity and a viewing obstruction.

The second stretch of songs included Neon Bible‘s title track and “No Cars Go,” as well as new tracks “Electric Blue” and “Put Your Money On Me.” The former fell flat while the latter raised the stakes for the rest of the show. While the band raised the energy and volume, the production went into overdrive, like a scene out of Mr. Robot, with numbers, computer code and dollar bills flashing on four giant screens above the stage

“The world needs Oakland and San Francisco to be the counterculture … for the sake of all of us,” Butler said afterward. “Keep shit weird and keep fighting.”

The crowd, which likely numbered at roughly a packed 13,000 (the upper level was blocked off) was involved from the outset, clapping, singing along, on its feet, but “Put Your Money On Me” was the point Arcade Fire veered this concert into another gear. “My Body Is a Cage” followed, with streams of vertical and horizontal light completely encircling the stage, creating the appearance of a cage. A bunch of songs from arguably the band’s best album, The Suburbs, as well as new tracks, followed. By the time Chassagne and Butler took turns going into the crowd to dance and sing during “Reflektor” and “Afterlife,” the buzz was at a fever pitch. The main set ended with the one-two punch of new track “Creature Comfort” (with this, Arcade Fire might have found a more powerful live track than “Wake Up”) and “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out).”

The encore included the bittersweet “We Don’t Deserve Love,” with Butler starting off singing in the crowd before walking through fans back to the stage, which was enveloped in a soft blue light, looking like an Infinity Stone from the Marvel Universe, and Chassagne playing some bottles of alcohol like a xylophone. Following a softer reprise of “Everything Now,” Arcade Fire blasted through “Wake Up” before making its way off the stage and back through the crowd in second line parade fashion.

Singer-songwer Angel Olson opened the concert with a five-piece backing band. Her eight-song set of reverb-heavy alt-country was pleasant on the ears, and the clear highlight was the penultimate track, “Sweet Dreams,” but it was difficult to make out, as sometimes happens when you play contemplative music in a large room. She also played the short side of the room, which meant we didn’t get a good look at her performance.

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(1) Comment

  1. Michael Ward

    Not a bad review overall, but the writer makes it seem like this was the first time Arcade Fire has played large events in the Bay Area. I've seen them twice at Shoreline (though one of those was at a Bridge School Benefit), they headlined at Outside Lands ('2011?), and they headlined an Oakland Coliseum show a few years ago at a 'Not So Silent Night' show.

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