Arcade Fire Warm Hearts

Arcade Fire burst on the scene in 2004 with their first full-length album “Funeral” quickly winning over the indie rock community.  After their sophomore release, “Neon Bible“, and tour in 2007 they returned this year with the critical favorite “The Suburbs“.  During these last 6 years, the band earned a reputation as an amazing live act, blending wild abandon with a determined raw energy – building epic tracks towards frenzied crescendos.  Therefore, we waited anxiously for the recent tour’s visit to the Greek theater on the campus of UC Berkeley on October 2, 2010.

The show was amazing and hit all the right notes as hoped.  The band’s performance was full of emotion, energy and intensity.  Yes there was wild abandon, but also a sense that the delivery was very carefully arranged and rehearsed.  Lead singer guitarist Win Butler fronts most of the songs though several selections featured his wife Régine Chassagne as lead vocalist.  All of the band are talented multi-instrumentalists each of whom switch duties throughout the show keeping things fresh and never dull.  Lights, surreal video and a closed circuit live video feed of the show were very effectively combined on a central large hi-definition monitor placed in front of a full sized projection backdrop.  Highlights of the performance included the chipper “Sprawl II” sung by Régine in a childlike lilt.  The dramatic track “Rococo” is a personal favorite which was rendered even more powerful in it’s live delivery.  They closed the show with their epic first hit “Wake Up” and delivered it’s sing-song finish along with enthusiastic audience participation.  Heart warming inspirational show – highly recommended.

Flaming Lips Burn!

The Flaming Lips burned brightly last time I saw them at the Fox Theater, Oakland on October 1, 2010 when they played to a sold-out crowd of initiated followers.  The music of this band is a jarring combination of funk, progressive, noise, and psychedelic music, that may invoke a dreamy state in the listener.  Their most recent release at that time, Embryonic, is a relentless, percussive masterwork that was not particularly featured in the set list at the Fox.  Instead the band pulled more evenly from material released over the last dozen years, probably because this show fell late in the tour.

In general, there is a lot to applaud in a Flaming Lips show:

  • Front man Wayne Coyne climbing inside his clear plastic ball rolling through the audience
  • Tons of confetti delivered via colorful cannons, showering down on the audience along with a multitude of giant balloons
  • A dozen amatuer dancers – boys stage left, girls right – posing and shimmying to the sounds
  • Wayne donning a giant pair of hands containing palm lasers shooting out in all directions
  • Beautiful light pallet with acid-house projections on clever rear video delivery system
  • Talented musicians that improve on the studio recordings with their aggressive live delivery

All of this should add up to an absolutely amazing entertainment spectacle.  And it does.  But somehow this night’s show just fell a bit short for me. Loved the evening, but some minor complaints:

  • Wayne too often extols the crowd to cheer louder
  • Too much time is spent wandering the stage and preparing for the next track, breaking the flow of the show
  • The dancers, hands and bubble are great staples, but new innovations would help the converted

Having said all that, for anyone uninitiated in the ways of the Lips, the show would be an exceptional experience. And make no mistake, once the band gets focused on the delivery of their most forceful, driven work, they are on top of their game as alt-rock pioneers. For this two time attendee, I will be excited to see them again with some additional set pieces and a tighter delivery so as to take the heat a few degrees higher.  Seems after the intervening years, and now with a new EP, the next tour will be the right time.

Crowded House Intrigues

Crowded House came to the Warfield Theater this summer, touring in support of their latest release Intriguer.  I have a long history of patronizing all manner of audio, video, and performances from this band, from Neil Finn and Tim Finn, and from their original band, Split Enz, and so am likely to be a bit biased about their capabilities. But to me, almost anything Neil and/or Tim are involved in will always be special as they are basically the Beatles of New Zealand.  Personal favorites amongst all their projects over the years include “Conflicting Emotions” from Split Enz, Tim Finn’s self titled third release, and the self titled “Finn Brothers” album.  For me, Crowded House’s best work is “Together Alone“, though after a series of listens, the new release “Intriguer” does intrigue – buy it with the DVD which sports the band running through most of the tracks in their home studio live and up close – it’s a wonderful document of a mature, precision band.

At the Warfield, the group was in top form in front of an enthusiastic crowd of fans.  New tracks like “Amsterdam” and “Either Side of the World” were standouts during the set, which was neatly comprised of Crowded House staples going back to their first release.  For the first time in my experience, they did not include a track from the Enz era, though it was not missed amongst so many favorites from their back catalog.  Neil’s voice is remarkable for it’s durability after all these years, and given every group member sings backup, including his wife who lent her voice for one track, the harmonies were lush and heart warming. All in all a great night from a great band fronted by this important artist and entertainer.