Over the course of a two-hour late night block on Saturday, NBC offered Arcade Fire an unusual space to show off their new wares. A spot as the featured musical act on Saturday Night Live’s 39th season premiere segued into a 30-minute special, Here Comes the Night Time, where the band showcased more new songs from their upcoming album, Reflektor.
For the SNL premiere, hosted by Tina Fey, Arcade Fire started off with its latest single, “Reflektor,” which found vocalists Win Butler and Régine Chassagne calling out to each other over disco beats. At one point, Chassagne left the stage to sing inside a mirrored box, which reflected her image dozens of times. For their second spot, the band debuted another new track, “Afterlife,” with its heavy, sinister bass and a dark tone underlying its peppy beat.
After SNL, the special, which had been previously recorded “Live from the Salsatheque” in Montreal, began with Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler parading down the street, followed by a line of fairy tale creatures including a human-sized rabbit and a dancing skeleton. As he made his way up into the venue, he passed James Franco talking on a pay phone – the first of Here Comes the Night Time‘s many celebrity cameos.
The entire venue was decorated like an early 80’s discotheque, with neon lights and pulsating bulbs covering every wall. Arcade Fire took the stage in white suits with animal outlines on the jackets and random splashes of paint on their faces, mirroring their costumes from the second SNL set. Butler wore a thick, solid black line running across his eyes like Pris from Bladerunner.
The band immediately broke into “Here Comes the Night Time” off of the new album. Driven by a pounding, energetic percussion, the song focused on bold rhythms that felt as inspired by Mardi Gras as the early dance club scene. Near the song’s end, the band suddenly sped up into a double-time version, adding an element of chaos to the song.
Building on their opener’s feel, Arcade Fire’s second track, “We Exist,” drove home their 1980s club affections while Butler adopted a mid-era Bowie intonation. The third selection took off in a new and aggressive direction with “Normal People,” starting with a new wave bounce, only to flip to an abrasive sound-clash before warping into a hard rocking riff.
While the band played, a motley cast of characters filled the dance floor. The skeleton and rabbit appeared again, along with people wearing huge papier-mâché heads, some of which were effigies of the band members themselves. More celebrities continued to drop in for oddball cameos: Bill Hader and and Zach Galifianakis called the band from what they claimed was space; Michael Cera, playing the part of a bartender, offered his co-worker a running criticism of the band as they played; two people wearing giant heads revealed themselves to be Ben Stiller and Bono. Rainn Wilson, Aziz Ansari, and Eric Wareheim also made brief appearances. Throughout the special, snippets of fake commercials bookended the segments, lending Here Comes the Night Time the air of an old television program taped onto VHS and adding to the trippy and chaotic vibe.
At the end of the night, the perspective shifted to a helicopter losing flight control before cutting to a millisecond of another weird commercial. It was a fitting end to a strange half-hour and an even more fitting beginning to their boundary-pushing, double disc set, Reflektor.