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Amid Criticism and Mixed Reviews, Arcade Fire Storms Philly

Arcade Fire has recently been on the receiving end of backlash due to the rollout of their latest album, Everything Now. The marketing campaign included a few head-scratchers: planted stories about dress code for concertgoers at a Brooklyn show; negative reviews of the music; bogus merchandise tie-ins. The album itself was met with mixed reviews—a first for Arcade Fire, a band long considered one of the best in the world by fans and critics alike.

In an interview with Vulture, the band’s frontman, Win Butler, discussed the impetus for his band’s maligned idea: “A big question for us was ‘How do you release a record post–Donald Trump?’ Since we were making a record called Everything Now, and it would be coming out after that election, it felt like a real moment to try and address subjects like fake news and how the media works. The other part of it is that when you make a record in this modern context, it instantly gets refracted in the media. There’s all this side content, this trail that follows everything. So we thought that maybe we’d just make all that content, as opposed to just making the art. That stuff was going to get made anyway, so why not make it ourselves?” Butler went on to add, “Maybe there was a certain amount of naïveté on our behalf about how things would be received. I guess at the very core of it, we were hoping that, at least among our fans, we could contribute to a conversation about thinking about what you read, not taking things at face value, critical thinking. Maybe certain parts of that got away from us.”

“A big question for us was ‘How do you release a record post–Donald Trump?’”

Perhaps Butler shouldn’t feel obligated to explain this perceived misstep. One could argue that their odd rollout proved many people are incapable of critical thinking, and that planted negatives travel faster and farther than organic goodness. That said, this is a band revered for their uncanny ability to connect with fans, and for the first time, it seems they may have stumbled.

Last weekend I arrived at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia excited to once again be a part of the communal experience Arcade Fire shows portend. The previous times I’ve seen them have been seared into my memory. The time they brought out David Bowie for an encore. The time they second-line marched through a sea of confetti on Randall’s Island. Of course, those epic performances were before Everything Now, an album I wanted to love, tried to love, but couldn’t love. An album decidedly too dance-y for my taste, more Daft Punk than Arcade Fire, too far a departure in sound from their classic debut, Funeral, and the generation-defining The Suburbs.

 

Inside the arena, the square stage was centered and made to look like a boxing ring. On the Jumbotron, fake commercials depicted a cheesy space cowboy pitching imaginary merchandise—$100 fidget spinners, anyone? While awaiting the show’s start, there was grumbling about tickets having been given away due to lack of sale. This was far from a sellout crowd.

But all of it, the contrived content and polarizing reviews, it all slipped away the moment Arcade Fire stepped on stage. What remained was connectivity. For nearly two hours, the rapt audience swooned, swayed, danced and sang along. When played live, songs from the new album finally came to life and blended beautifully with crowd favorites like “Tunnels” and “The Suburbs.” And when Butler paused to speak about looking out for one another, it didn’t feel like a gimmick; it resonated. Then there were other moments, the kind that make you remember a concert forever. Times when the emotion in the air was palpable. “Afterlife” was rapturous in its urgency; pretty sure I saw someone cry while singing along. In the absence of misunderstood satire and clumsy rollouts, all that was left was Arcade Fire—and they were pure magic.

 

Setlist

  1. Everything Now
  2. Signs of Life 


  3. Rebellion (Lies)
  4. 
Here Comes the Night
  5. Haïti (Haitian dancers on stage)
  6. No Cars Go
  7. Electric Blue
  8. Put Your Money on Me
  9. Neon Bible
  10. Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
  11. The Suburbs 


  12. The Suburbs (Continued) 


  13. Ready to Start 


  14. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
  15. Reflektor 


  16. Afterlife
  17. Infinite Content
  18. Creature Comfort 


  19. Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) 



Encore:

  1. We Don’t Deserve Love(Win Butler singing in crowd)
  2. Everything Now (Continued)
  3. Wake Up

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