Arcade Fire’s show last night at a Brooklyn warehouse began with a prank. Around 9:30 p.m., LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy – who co-produced Arcade Fire’s excellent new album, Reflektor (due out October 29th) – climbed onto a small stage in the back of the space. “There’s been a little snafu,” Murphy apologetically told the fans who had been pressed up against this stage for 90 minutes, watching crew members tune instruments and put down set lists. “We can only get three members right now. But it’s going to be OK. In the interim, I’d like to introduce . . . the Reflektors!”
Three people in huge papier-mâché head-masks shuffled onstage and jammed vaguely on guitar, bass and drums for a few minutes before shuffling back off. A pause of several moments followed. Just when everyone in the crowd was thoroughly befuddled, there was a loud noise from the opposite side of the warehouse – where a curtain had just been pulled away to reveal a much larger stage, covered with mirrors and glitter, on which the real Arcade Fire were now launching into “Reflektor,” the dark-tinted disco groove that opens the new LP. The audience was almost too busy wildly stampeding toward the new stage to cheer properly.
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Even before that fake-out, it was an unusual evening, full of tricks and games. Tickets to this weekend’s pair of warehouse gigs – which sold out in instants a few days before the show – listed the band only as the Reflektors. (One security guard working the event said his team hadn’t been told who was hiring them until shortly before the night of.) Fans were informed of a mandatory dress code, requiring formalwear or costumes; those who forgot were provided with complimentary face paint and masks as they entered the cavernous space to celebrate indie-rock Halloween.
A while into Arcade Fire’s ten-song, hour-long set – after the heart-pounding Reflektor highlight “Normal Person” – frontman Win Butler apologized for the whole fake-stage thing. “Do you forgive us?” he said, a little sheepishly. “We just thought it would be funny.”
Yes, Win, we forgave you. How could we not when the band was playing such a stellar set? Bathed in blue-violet light, dressed in sparkly carnival outfits and joined by two guest percussionists from Haiti, they shared eight mesmerizing tunes from Reflektor. “We’ve only played this for, like, 200 people, so it feels sort of not-ready-for-prime-time,” Butler said before the cathartic “Afterlife.” But that song – like everything else they played – sounded just as powerful as the ones they played on their last world tour. Reflektor is a big leap for Arcade Fire, warping their familiar sounds with dubby bass grooves and spooky underworld vibes, but they pull it off masterfully on record, and the same was true last night.
That said, the crowd reached new heights of ecstasy when the band played two old favorites – each one introduced as an Arcade Fire “cover.” (Get it, because the band onstage was the Reflektors? Oh, Win, you joker.) “Sprawl II,” from 2010’s The Suburbs – the sparkly, dance-y tune, sung by Butler’s wife and bandmate Régine Chassagne, that in some ways prefigured Reflektor – finally got the rave it deserved, with thousands of hands waving blissfully in the air. And “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” from the band’s 2004 debut Funeral, felt as nervously electric as it has for nearly a decade.
Arcade Fire’s set closed with an extended version of the after-hours theme song “Here Comes the Night Time.” As the song built to its giddy climax, a masked Butler leapt into the crowd, made his way to the soundboard and sat down to fiddle with a MacBook before vanishing again, along with the rest of the band. Distant dance music played over the venue’s speakers. Was this another fake-out? Should we be looking for another hidden stage behind us, or on the ceiling, maybe?
After about 15 minutes, Butler reappeared onstage in a T-shirt. “We’re not playing any more songs,” he said. “But we are going to play some dance music.” Scattered boos echoed through the room – presumably coming from people like the bro who, earlier in the night, hollered “Tunnels!” after every single new song the band played. (Is that the East Williamsburg equivalent of “Freebird”?) Butler seemed understandably annoyed by this reaction. “If that’s super a bummer that we’re only going to dance with you and party all night,” he shrugged, “then go home.”
A large portion of the crowd did just that, for reasons that remain inexplicable to this writer. Those who stayed got to groove on for another hour under the mirrorball while an unseen Butler spun classics from “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” to “Fame,” plus lots of dusty reggae and more. A few minutes before midnight, the lights went back down as Arcade Fire’s guest percussionists set up on the small stage and started up a joyful late-night rhythm. Then they, too, left – and that was it. No one seemed quite convinced that the strange, magical night was really over until security told us we had to go. Who knows what the band has in store for the second show tonight?
“Joan of Arc”
“It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)”
“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
“Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”
“Here Comes the Night Time”