Arcade Fire: Hitting it Big. Keeping it Small.

February 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Arcade Fire. Photo by Sam Santos.

It’s a common tale.

Breakthrough indie-rock act releases an EP with enough vigor and promise to garner the attention of the record labels, and are soon signed. Their debut album is a massive success, and the band embarks on a world tour that propels their meteoric rise to fame.

In most cases, the story ends here.

The band—dizzy from their rapid rise to greatness and sweating under the critical eye of the blogosphere—must now set out to record their sophomore release: the true test of any band’s mettle. This task is a daunting one, especially for the overhyped artist, whose second album is often judged regardless of its quality as a standalone piece of art, and is thus doomed to disappoint in almost every case. It’ll be met with less-than-enthusiastic reviews, polarizing the fan base into the loyal supporters and the scorned “true fans” that bitterly reminisce the glory days of the debut. (See Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Cold War Kids, Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party.)

But, sometimes, the band survives. They pass through the second record crucible and emerge dazzling and victorious, their fan base strengthened and their hype verified. This is what happened to Arcade Fire. Neon Bible struck the billboards at #2 in the US and before long their songs were appearing on commercials for the super bowl and in trailers for Hollywood blockbusters. They quickly began earning the reputation as the band responsible for the “popularization of indie-rock.” Now, the “can-indie-rock-be-popular-and-still-be-indie” discussion is not one to be had here, but it is nonetheless interesting to see a band so deeply rooted in the independent movement become titans of the industry, and plot tours in venues like Madison Square Garden and USC’s Shrine Auditorium.

It seems unavoidable that somewhere along the way the band becomes jaded, in a sense.

“You guys have no idea how good it is for the soul to play a small show like this,” said frontman Win Butler last Friday night at the Ukrainian Culture Center. The Grammy award winners planned a secret, intimate show for their LA fans while they were in town for the award ceremony. They announced details on their Twitter account, and staggered the information starting two days prior to the show. They posted clues to the three selling locations at around 10pm on Thursday. Fans flocked to Fingerprints Records in Long Beach, Origami Records in Silverlake, and the El Rey Theatre in LA to wait in line for tickets to the intimate >600 person show. The tickets weren’t sold until Friday at noon; most people waited in line for around 12 hours.

“We’ve been dying to get out of West Hollywood; it feels amazing to be here with you tonight,” said Butler. “And for those of you who camped out for tickets: you’re (expletive) crazy.”

On Sunday Arcade Fire’s latest record The Suburbs won the Grammy for best album of the year, upsetting the likes of Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. In the press conference after the show, a reporter asked them about the importance of the intimate show they played a few days earlier compared to winning the Grammy for best record of the year. “It’s insanely important,” said Butler. “The show we played the other night was like a show we would have played six years ago, and as happy and as stunned as we are tonight, it’s the same feeling. We love playing and we love connecting with people. This [winning the Grammy] is more like, from outer space (laughs). But yeah, they’re flip-sides of the same coin.”

Arcade Fire is headlining both Coachella and Bonnaroo this year. Scenes from The Suburbs, a short film by the band and Spike Jonze is set to release in May.

By Christian Koons, Staff Music Writer.

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