Arcade Fire at the Forum: Indie Rock’s Phoenix Burns Again
While indie rock may still be one of the most popular genres amongst casual listeners, it’s no secret that the genre and aesthetics have fallen far past their heyday. With how many artists from the peak of indie rock that seem to be lost in their navigation of current trends, bands that have been able to adapt and reinvent themselves amongst new scenes really stand out in building a more promising future than their peers. Arcade Fire’s recent 2 night residency at The Forum represented a shift in direction for the band’s sound and overall attitude, feeling much more like an arena rock performance than the more modest and independent aesthetic that they were previously known for. With their recent Grammy nomination for “Best Alternative Rock Album”, Arcade Fire’s bold and energetic performance proved themselves as stars within the alternative genre as they continue to rise from the ashes of the indie scene they once dominated.
Before Arcade Fire had even taken the stage, it was clear that their performance would be leagues more theatrical and grandiose than what most early 00’s indie bands have to offer in 2022. The Forum’s stage was transformed into a black hole as the dome around it was covered in projections of psychedelic space-like visuals that foreshadowed the tone of the massive atmosphere that the band would soon create, not only in sound but in the wide array of members with completely different aesthetics that make up Arcade Fire’s image. Seeing Arcade Fire live almost feels like you are seeing an orchestra built up of motley circus performers rather than any sort of rock concert with how many different instruments being played by strong personalities that you’re witnessing simultaneously.
With an impressively quick set-up considering how much is happening on stage, Arcade Fire chose to start off their set with “Age of Anxiety” from their newest album WE. The track was an interesting choice as an opener, with its slow build up that feels more like a ballad that would be played at the peak of their performance. However, Arcade Fire has so many intense and theatrical classic tracks that there was absolutely no shortage of these anthems throughout the night. The Forum was roaring with applause as backup vocalist Regine Chassange approached the stage, and the feedback doubled in volume when frontman Win Butler rushed out to jump on top of a box placed in the center of the stage with the album’s name WE written on it. Even with Arcade Fire’s roots in indie music, they did not hesitate at all in filling the arena with the high energy rockstar attitude that their legend status warrants.
After starting off their set with a bang, Arcade Fire kept ramping the momentum higher as they broke into a streak of older fan favorites, starting with “Ready to Start” from their landmark album The Suburbs. While the crowd certainly had positive reception to the newer material, there was a clear shift of energy in the room as soon as the opening drum kick for the track started with the old-school fans prepared to sing along to every word. Considering The Suburbs was the last album that Arcade Fire won a Grammy for, the performance of this song immediately following a track from WE seemed to send a clear message about Arcade Fire’s consistency in releasing landmark albums and their unapologetic confidence in securing another Grammy win for their newest release.
The older fan-favorites continued without a pause as Arcade Fire broke into “Power Out” from the first album Funeral, filling any of the indie heads in the room with glee before shifting gears in their sound once again to play some of the more popular tracks from their 2013 album Reflektor. Reflektor was a divisive album upon its original release, as the band stepped into the more alternative rock sound that they now embody and experimented with more electronic influences. Even with my preferences for the older material, the songs from Reflektor have a massive sound that is meant to be experienced in a setting as grand as The Forum.
Vocalist Regine Chassange walked throughout the crowd to the center stage of The Forum interacting with fans as she sang, bringing a unique sense of intimacy to the crowd that many artists rarely attempt in an arena setting. Even if Win Butler is the frontman of Arcade Fire in their presentation, Chassange’s unique art-rock influenced vocal style is equally important in building their distinct sound. As she rose from the crowd to begin playing piano on the center stage of the room, Win Butler lowered himself from the main stage to continue this personal and interactive energy in the air as he made his way through the audience to join her. The utilization of both stages throughout the set had the evening feeling as if you were shifting between viewing Arcade Fire in a large festival-like setting and experiencing them in a smaller venue more suited for their indie roots. Even if Arcade Fire is becoming more of an arena rock band, it’s clear that they are dedicated to maintaining the more down-to-earth aspects of their image that brought the band success to begin with.
An unexpected highlight of this set was the dramatic performance of “My Body is a Cage”, sounding like a completely different song than the original studio recording. Before the opening melody had even started, Win Butler had jumped on top of the piano and started belting the emotional lyrics from the center stage of The Forum. The iconic track is known mostly for its minimalist and depressing energy, but the passionate human spirit that Win expressed when singing transformed it from a distant atmospheric track into a personal and intense experience that could be felt from any seat in the venue. If there was any speculation about Arcade Fire’s ability to embody a more rockstar larger than life presence than the indie personas they came from, the absolute reinvention of this song proved how effortlessly they can step into this new role.
While the more intimate experience of seeing Win Butler and Regine Chassange from the smaller stage of The Forum brought a distinctive and awe-inspiring atmosphere to the room, it was beginning to feel as if the rest of the band that remained on the main stage were disconnected from the two. This didn’t last for very long as they both made their way back through the crowd to their bandmates, keeping this theme of motion throughout their performance prominent. It really was incredible how different segments of the set felt like you were seeing completely different bands, personifying how many different eras of music that they have created throughout their career. Even for fans unfamiliar with their newer material, the constant shifts in stage presence made the changes in musical styles throughout the night feel much more natural. Even if some of the newer material felt as if it was bordering on being too radio-friendly in its focus, the charisma that the wide cast of members carried throughout never felt uninspired. Especially with classic songs like “The Suburbs” and “Rebellion (Lies)” being thrown into the mix, the performance impressed fans from any of their specific eras in attendance that evening.
After a somewhat bizarre decision to have the inflatable tube guys that you see at car dealerships spontaneously pop up everywhere throughout the front of the stage, the entire band had walked through the crowd to set up on the smaller, more intimate center stage of The Forum. With how many members crowded onto this small stage, the ending to their set really felt more like seeing an artistic exhibit or street performance than a conventional concert. I was completely shocked at Arcade Fire’s out-of-the-blue choice to cover “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty. Win Butler had stated before performing the track that it was the first song that he had learned on guitar, and it did feel equally personal as it was an experiment in their newer arena rock direction. Although unexpected, the cover choice did create a lot of enthusiasm in the audience as nearly everybody in the room was singing along passionately.
There are few tracks that capture the energy of the early 00’s indie rock movement more than Arcade Fire’s classic track “Wake Up” from their debut album Funeral. The sing-a-long nature of the song’s chorus could not have been better suited for a large arena like The Forum, especially being placed as the last song of the night. It’s apparent that the track is one of Arcade Fire’s favorite songs to perform, with an equal focus on each member’s instrumentals loudly backing their group vocals for the iconic chorus. Even if the song may be a bit overplayed at this point (and I’m sure the band feels that way as well), its theatrical atmosphere and the crowd participation that it embodies could not be a better song to leave the evening with. Even if music trends and Arcade Fire as a whole have changed drastically since its original release, classic anthems like this never lose their spark when experienced in such a breathtaking and enormous environment.
With how rapidly trends within music change in the current day due to the industry’s focus on curated internet streaming, there is an unfortunate consequence of artists having trouble reinventing themselves to adapt with these shifts. Even when artists are able to transform themselves to succeed in the current market, they often alienate their longtime fans with these changes and have difficulty maintaining this second wave of success. Arcade Fire is one of the rare examples of a band that has stayed consistent in their artistic evolution, allowing themselves much more freedom to crossover into different fanbases that no longer have an interest in the indie scene that they once reigned kings of. Arcade Fire’s recent performance at The Forum was an impressively massive indie rock performance that many bands in the genre do not attempt, but it was also an incredible arena rock performance that could appeal to the most mainstream of alternative fans. It’s clear to see how Arcade Fire still maintains the popularity to headline multiple nights at The Forum and be nominated for Grammy Awards with their ambitious effort to stand out as performers that transcend the concept of rock subgenres altogether.
Words by: Danny Ryan
Photos by: Greg Flack