I'd never been to New York. I'd never been to a city larger than Atlanta or Chicago. I'd never been to a show in a stadium. I'm from Indiana, where we're spared good acts and there's no shortage of crappy butt-rock bands and synth-metalcore acts who just riff off of what the last one did. I'm used to sitting in the grass at an amphitheater or standing in a pit at a show with general admission. I'm used to bad openers with trite looks...choreographed dance moves...lyrics that make me cringe. I'm used to wanting to show up late. I'm used to going nuts at a show. I'm used to my parents being at home, asking me how the show was after I got home. However, this was a family vacation and I just lucked into these tickets, so we all went. This show, at Madison Square Garden, was not what I was used to at all.
Starting off was Owen Pallett, who I thought was doing sound check at first. He came out with a violin and said that he was opening, which caught me off guard because he was actually good. Live, he played his violin and used a sequencer to loop it. His voice complemented it all quite well. Pallett was very modest, answering questions that the folks in the pit hurled at him in between songs. He brought out a friend to play drum parts for some of the songs, which provided more texture to the sound. It got fuller with the addition of those drums. I looked him up on my phone after his set and found that he wrote the string arrangements for the last Arcade Fire album, Neon Bible. Now listening to that album, I can't say I'm very surprised. Pallett earned my parents' seal of approval. I bought them an album from the merch station outside, and they listened to it today, and still liked it.
Next was Spoon. I haven't listened to Spoon's older work much, to be honest. I picked up on them between Gimme Fiction and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The latter, I love. Spoon didn't spend much time introducing songs or chatting, but it was good. The songs from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga got the most reaction from the crowd, as did "I Turn My Camera On" (I'm presuming this as it was the theme to Veronica Mars). The two best songs of the set, in my opinion, were "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" and "Don't Make Me a Target." "Cherry Bomb" felt fleshed out with the horn section they brought with them, not like a half-assed "Oh, well, you can't expect us to bring horns can you?" Even better was "Taget," which bias aside (it's my favorite Spoon song), was the highlight of the set.
Finally, the main act was up. This concert was streamed live over YouTube and was directed by Terry Gilliam. You can check it out if you'd like over at their YouTube page. The set was themed for their new album The Suburbs, which if you haven't checked out yet, I'd suggest it as it's one of the best indie albums this year. The set started off with "Ready to Start," an early favorite of mine from the new album. Maybe the best way to start the set possible. It was cathartic to say the least.
The set went on, with frontman Win Butler stepping out on railings and over fans like he was in Cirque De Soleil rather than an indie rock band from the Great White North. They pranced around the stage to switch instruments, each one as proficient as the last on the same one. There was something I realized through the set: The new songs and old songs were handled much differently. Everything off The Suburbs was lean, mean and crushing. "Month of May" blasted out of the gate like they had caged it for the set, poking it with sharp objects, waiting to unleash it. Even "The Suburbs," which is light and bouncy on record, felt like it was more of a rallying cry than usual. "Grab your mother's keys. We're leaving." It seemed less like a reminder and more of a command. The old songs, however, were handled with a nostalgia, it seemed. Like they were antiques that were kept around for special occasions. Fine china, if you will.
As the set closed with "Keep the Car Running," I knew this wasn't just important for me to see a band I liked. This was huge for independent music as a whole. The Garden was sold out, we were all singing along; the kids that AF talk about in "Month of May" weren't around. It was a great show, to say the least. The encore consisted of songs I figured would be in the encore: "Rebellion" was much more grand live than I could have expected; then "Sprawl II" kicked in, which totally killed. Suddenly, a tick here, a thump there, where there isn't on the album. The song stops. "Hey, guys, we're gonna have to start again, because the drum machine fucked up on us." The song kicked right back in, like somebody had just pressed play on their remote again. Of course the last song was "Wake Up." How could it not be? Obviously the most anthemic and recognizable of their songs, it was beautiful. One of the best live acts I've seen. Also the most visually and sonically assaulting since I saw the Nine Inch Nails farewell tour.
I walked back to my hotel that night through Times Square. It wasn't as busy as I had seen earlier that day. The city didn't feel cold like so many had told me. To a Midwestern kid from the suburbs, I felt like I had been greeted with open arms, just like Arcade Fire had.