BY UNCLE BLURT
“What exactly is going on here? I don’t understand—what are you people doing?” Thus intro’d Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler, by way of jolting the Dec. 8 audience at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium, on hand for the annual KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas concert, into Reflektor-dom, into the here and now. Webcast to the masses, as was the previous night at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, it was a slightly pared-down event by AF standards, who had previously been seen at sundry marathon album kickoffs marked by costuming on both the parts of band and audience. Not to mention a barrage of canny p.r. schtick (such as a key appearance on Saturday Night Live followed by a “surprise” concert).
Naturally the tape decks and hard drives across the globe were getting the two shows down, among them the web-centric Naughty Dog label, which has now yielded this two-disc set compiling both nights, the KROQ bash as well as the “Not So Silent Night” Oakland concert. Whattaya get? Well, first thing you should know is that there are a few taping glitches here and there, due to (disclosed up front by Naughty Dog) problems with the webcast. In places, too, the mix gets a tad wobbly, such as in the KROQ show’s “Joan of Arc” in which the vocals totally dominate the instruments.
But while those issues are momentarily annoying, the sheer power of the overall audio experience ultimately negates ‘em. An early high point on Disc One arrives with Funeral’s masterpiece anthem “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” wherein if you crank the stereo—home speakers, please; none of this earbud shit for a band like Arcade Fire—you are very nearly transported to the arena, surrounded by shouting/stomping/ecstatic fellow fans. Meanwhile, on the same show’s “Wake Up” the band plays a succinct but serene tribute to Lou Reed by way of an a cappella snippet of “Walk On the Wild Side”—a smart audible when you suddenly realize they are launching into their ultimate anthem, “Wake Up.”
The Oakland show is no less engaging. They open with the title track to Reflektor, instantly getting the whole room in motion, and then proceed to essay a solid bloc of fresh material from the album (“We Exist,” not one of the strongest songs on album, turns out to be a monster in concert, and it’s followed by “It’s Never Over” in a masterful sequencing stroke). In an out-of-the-blue segue, “Normal Person” unexpectedly draws a path from Guns N’ Roses’ classic “Sweet Child O’ Mine”—listen to the latter song’s guitar solo intro and compare it to the former’s recurring riff—and before you know it Arcade Fire is also tipping its collective hat to Lorde and her track “Royals.” And once again, the show closes with “Wake Up,” which you will have long ago done at this stage, possibly to the point of jumping up and down in the privacy of your own living room, regretting that you weren’t on hand for either of these shows.
Never fear, punters. The band will be everywhere in 2014. No question about that.
DOWNLOAD: Both shows, right here, literally.