In the past few years I have mostly stopped listening to new indie rock music — a combination of me getting older and also having a whole internet worth of music to explore. Nowadays I get more excited about listening to old-school rockabilly or German folk-punk or classic country as opposed to, like, the new Grizzly Bear. One of the few exceptions, though, is for the Arcade Fire.
This band has all the hallmarks of being the kind of thing I won’t like: popularity, pretension, expensive concert tickets, etc. Oh, and they aren’t edgy at all! They barely even rock. But each of their first two albums wormed its way into my brain, and I eventually had to give in. I do like these guys. Sigh….
Their third album, The Suburbs, had just come out a few days before this show, and I listened to a streaming version of it several times in advance of the concert. It seemed awfully mellow… but potentially good. My judgment was still reserved, and the first two albums had been slow-burners, after all.
It was my second trip to Merriweather of the summer — better than Jiffy Lube Live, at least. We made it through the rush-hour traffic in time to chug a beer or two and go see openers Spoon. I have never paid much attention to Spoon, though they do have one song I sort of adore (“That’s the Way We Get By”). There is nothing to dislike about them. But there is nothing that really grips me about them either. They are consistently pretty good. Which was cool and all for a live concert, but not enough to make me care too much on a nice summer evening when there were friends to randomly bump into and (more) beers to buy. Opening acts at outdoor summer concerts have it tough… it is just hard to care very much when it isn’t even dark outside.
So I only really paid half-attention to Spoon.
I paid way more attention to Arcade Fire, but I am not really sure what I thought of the performance. I’d seen them once before touring on Neon Bible. That had been a great show at a terrible venue. This one at Merriweather seemed to lack something, too. I guess I am just at a point where I find it hard to be very impressed by elaborate, passionate arena shows. The Arcade Fire are glorious in some ways, and I really do like their music a lot. But I am not really into the shared experience of a big-time show. If this band was made up of friends of mine, and I could see them perform in a tiny club for like 20 people, dripping passion and sincerity, playing their guts out for their art, well that would be one thing. But sitting with 15,000 people and singing along to anthems is not really my thing. In some ways I had more fun watching the Scorpions on the same stage a few weeks earlier.
But it’s not like the show was bad. It just wasn’t quite right for me. I was mildly bummed that they mostly skipped over Neon Bible, and a little tired of the first album and its epic scale. The new one seems good, and I enjoyed hearing it live, but the crowd wasn’t super into the new stuff. The new songs aren’t the most arena-friendly, which is sort of interesting since the band itself is now arena-sized in popularity. I admire that, and I am impressed at their changing styles, and it is refreshing to see a band that is neither cynical nor boring.
I will keep an eye on these guys… maybe I’ll check them out again next time around. But I might be more interested in a weird Win Butler solo project a few years down the road at some little venue. I bet he could do some pretty awesome rockabilly or German folk-punk or classic country…
Here’s a Washington Post review, and some videos: