So, Thursday night's Arcade Fire show at Bridgestone Arena was a little undersold. There are a couple of ways to spin that. You could note that another 10,000 people could have fit in the building, a disappointment by coliseum-rock standards. Or, you could highlight how a Canadian indie-rock band on Merge Records drew a crowd of more than 5,000 to a gig in Nashville, and call it a triumphant feat for underground music. Let's go with the latter angle.
From the minute The Spin sauntered up to Bridgestone, the feeling was different than it was at any arena show we've been to (and we've been to a lot of them at this point). For one, after all the grumbling about the band requesting fans wear costumes or formal attire to their concerts, it appeared as though roughly half the attendees (maybe more) followed suit. As we roamed the concourse, there was no shortage of gig-goers — from distinguished gentlemen to Greek goddesses — garbed in tuxedos, hairpins, phantom masks, Mardi Gras beads and tons of shit probably purchased from nearby Party City. Some folks were dressed to the nines, others were less committed but still made the effort, while many obviously trotted out that now-ill-fitting suit they keep around for the occasional wedding or funeral. People were having fun. The band's plan worked!
Inside, Arcade Fire had decked out the hall to have a Caribbean nightclub feel, and the vibe had a unique intimacy. By the time we found our seats, tUnE-yArDs were in the home stretch of their opening set. The sound of singer Merrill Garbus' commanding, full-bodied rasp and hyper-rhythmic world-beating backing band echoing through the arena was mesmerically trance-inducing. As the yArDs' set ended, the house lights didn't go up. Instead, fellow support act Kid Koala (who, like a furry, was dressed like, you guessed it, a koala) rose out of the "B-stage" across the arena floor as a disco ball descended overhead. With the show put together as one continuous presentation, the transition from Koala spinning hot wax to Arcade Fire's stage entrance was seamless.
As a "Funky DJ" Latin groove spun, the main-stage curtain dropped to reveal Win Butler and his rag-tag art-rock troupe — which these days is augmented by conga players and a horn section — dressed like zombies in rock-star threads and Nudie Suit-esque coats. Looking like classy, post-apocalyptic Opry stars at a Halloween bash, the band kicked off the set with the double-time-to-slow-grooving Reflektor highlight "Here Comes the Nighttime" amid explosions of streamers and confetti. With a clamor, "Nighttime" blazed straight into Reflektor's title track, a song that packs a much bigger punch live than it does on record. As each chorus hit, Butler — now a seasoned rock frontman — would lunge toward the crowd and leap onto the monitors, outstretching his hands and looking like a cross between Bono and Frankenstein. At one point during the song, he grabbed an audience member's phone and took a selfie. Meanwhile, his wife/bandmate Regine Chassagne held up a pair of octagonal mirrors to, ahem, reflekt light on the audience.
Arcade Fire is big on lights, with each song having well-synced flashes of rich color. As for octagonal mirrors, above the stage was a low-hanging, shimmering sub-roof of those. Combined with the sometimes-screens/sometimes-mirrors behind the band and a sleek white floor, the stage itself looked like a swanky Miami dance club perched inside an arena.
Whether it was during The Suburbs' title track (which decayed and faded into a hypnotic audience sing-along), the somewhat seldom-played Funeral cut "Crown of Love," or Reflektor gems like "Afterlife" and "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)" (during which Chassagne appeared on the B-stage, she and Butler singing to each other like lovers on separate cliffs with a deep valley between them), it was clear the band had no trouble captivating an arena-sized crowd and filling the vast space with sound. The sound hardly ever stopped, actually, with the band using musical interludes to join most songs in the set. A couple times those interludes included stripped-down, truncated versions of Neon Bible fan faves like "My Body Is a Cage" and a seemingly spontaneous "Antichrist Television Blues."
As evidenced by both the crowd's willingness to dress for the occasion and relentless attentiveness, it was clear that Arcade Fire fans aren't casual in their love for the band — a band that, in spite of the times, is still an "album band." They don't have any charting hits, yet it seemed like most of Thursday night's 5,000-ish attendees knew every song. The band did such a good job transforming Bridgestone into its own reflektive world that we didn't feel like we were in Nashville until the mostly Ryman-befitting encore. Not just because it kicked off with the band's bobble-headed impostors miming along to Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop" on the B-stage, but also thanks to a worship-worthy rendition of the uber-churchy anthem "Intervention" and an always-evangelical, rousing, arms-outstretched mass sing-along to the band's signature song "Wake Up." As guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Tim Kingsbury promised the Scene when he spoke with us a couple weeks ago, the band went deep with its regionally specific cover of the night, opting to tackle The Louvin Brothers nugget "Broadminded" — the first song of the night that wholly perplexed the crowd — in loose, synth-pop-gone-bluegrass form.
Even if this was Nashville, it was Arcade Fire's version of Nashville, and it was spectacular. "It really is our party, and we can do what we want," Butler said near the end of the show. Cheers to that!
Lana Del Rey: the woman, the myth, the ... well, The Spin won't go there just yet, though something about the 27-year-old singer-songwriter had teen females flocking to the Ryman for her sold-out show Friday night, her first in Nashville. And they came in droves — the "angel-headed hipsters," the floral head-banded youth, that guy in slightly racist Native-American garb that included an excessive feathered veil trailing down his back.
Del Rey has always been a touch enigmatic. Before the release of her second studio album Born to Die in 2012, she brought her low, throaty vocals to the SNL stage, a rough appearance that made her something of a punch line in American music and forced her to tour mainly in Europe. But Del Rey has found her niche in American mythology, from Ginsberg and Whitman to John Wayne and JFK. These not-so-subtle references lend her airy vocals a pretentious air. Walking into the Ryman and seeing the uncomfortably young, Coachella-esque audience Del Rey garnered, this effect was immediate. We at The Spin had to ask ourselves, "Do we look like that?"
After seeing opener and OURS frontman Jimmy Gnecco perform his melodramatic rock in leather bell-bottoms, our answer was a resounding "Hell no." Gnecco was the sort of opener you might expect Del Rey to have — sad and slow, with the obvious goal of promoting the mythic image of Del Rey as a trapped heroine (as underscored by his cringe-inducing song about Del Rey entitled "Fall Into My Hands," which includes the lyrics "If you think you were born to die, and that makes you not want to try"). Gnecco's performance came off as insincere and unimpressive, compounded by the hokey palm trees and candles that were already set up for Del Rey's set. And though the audience cheered whenever Gnecco mentioned Del Rey, they were noticeably disinterested the rest of the time.
The self-aware Del Rey fan would have reason to be a little nervous, yet when she took the stage at 9 p.m. in a white dress, the candles lit up the West Coast-themed stage, and suddenly everything fit. She crooned her first line, "My pussy tastes like Pepsi-Cola," and the effect was breathlessly cinematic. Gone was the golden-red-haired girl from that disastrous SNL performance who seemed to be trying too hard. In her place was the raven-haired, ethereally beautiful singer who fit perfectly on the Ryman stage — in character yet approachable. Del Rey's voice affected an almost girlish tone both while speaking to the crowd and singing hits like "Summertime Sadness" and "Young and Beautiful," straying from her much-parodied low husk. Del Rey devotes special attention to her music videos — often drawing on film noir and American symbolism to bring her unique vision of herself and pop culture to life — and it came as no surprise that this was heavily incorporated into her live show. Clips from her music videos flashed across the screen, morphing into one giant, hour-long montage.
For every song that immersed the audience in Del Rey's West Coast world, however, there were five minutes after nearly every song wherein Del Rey signed autographs and took selfies with her devoted fans. After the fourth or fifth time, these moments stopped being quirky and relatable and became distracting interruptions. Sonically, though, she was surprisingly on point; all of the songs sounded similar to if not better than they do on record. Del Rey performed her new single "West Coast" while sauntering across the stage barefoot — it was a fitting rendition that hinted at the good things possibly to come with her forthcoming album, scheduled for release in June. That album, her third, was recorded here in Nashville with Dan Auerbach at his studio, Easy Eye Sound. Del Rey also paid homage to the Ryman — she said the Mother Church's stage is one on which she's always wanted to perform, and her "Body Electric" name-drops the Grand Ole Opry.
Del Rey's live show pulls the listener into her affected dream world, populated by the likes of Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. When plunged back into real life, it's easy to get a bit of whiplash — but maybe, considering the fact that we allowed ourselves to be lost in it for an evening, we're not so different from those flower-crowned, angel-headed hipsters after all.
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