To gear up for their Grammy Awards performance, Arcade Fire decided to put on a show that was decidedly more low-key, but no less enthusiastic than Sunday’s will undoubtedly be: a last-minute gig at the Ukrainian Culture Center of Los Angeles. The show attracted around 500 hardcore fans, some of whom had camped out Thursday night to score tickets at one of three purchase points in LA, and who accompanied the band’s 90-minute set with frenzied choral-singing, fist-pumping and foot-stomping.
“We can’t tell you how good for the spirit it is to play a small show like this,” said frontman Win Butler halfway through the eight-piece group’s show. “Thanks for coming.”
The band opened with a bracing version of “Month of May,” the punkiest cut from 2010’s hit The Suburbs, then segued directly into “Rebellion (Lies),” with Win’s younger brother Will going nuts on a portable tom-tom drum. (For all of Win’s junior-Bono intensity, it’s worth noting that Will Butler might actually be the most exciting band member to watch, as he demonstrated with some seriously dramatic xylophone technique during “Intervention.”)
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True to the band’s Canadian-collectivist roots, Win moved to bass for a speedy take on Neon Bible‘s “No Cars Go,” while Régine Chassagne took over lead vocals in “Haiti,” shimmying to the tune’s jaunty rhythm like an indie-rock Shakira. Win later mentioned that a dollar from each $30 ticket would go toward earthquake-relief efforts in Haiti, where Chassagne’s parents were born; he also urged the Haitian government to “sue the fucking shit out of” deposed dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, who recently returned to the country following a quarter-century exile.
Compared to Arcade Fire’s headlining shows last August at Madison Square Garden – not to mention the pro treatment they’re sure to get at the Grammys – the sound inside the bingo-appropriate Culture Center left a lot to be desired: Let’s just say you had to use your imagination to hear Chassagne’s accordion in “Neighborhood #2 (Laïka).”
But because nearly every song turned into a ragtag singalong – especially “Wake Up,” which inspired a huge surge toward the stage – the crappy mix hardly made an impact. By the time an old-fashioned crowd-surfer appeared during the group’s closer, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” it was obvious these newly minted rock stars were enjoying their night down on Earth.