Arcade Fire and the National at the Scottrade Center, 4/21/11: Review

Categories: Last Night

Arcade-Fire-Review.jpg
Todd Owyoung
Arcade Fire/The National
Scottrade Center
Thursday, April 21

"We're still getting used to this arena-rock thing," Win Butler said last night. "But shit, a room's a room. Let's go!" With that, he and the indie rock juggernaut he fronts launched into "No Cars Go," seven of its eight members singing full-force from the front of the stage.

View a slideshow of the Arcade Fire at the Scottrade Center

While it's true Arcade Fire hadn't (officially) played in St. Louis since an opening gig at Rocket Bar in 2004, nobody believes the band is uneasy in the Scottrade Center, given the grand ambitions of all three of its albums. On Saturday, Butler and his cohorts will sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Wrigley, for crying out loud, so good thing he only took one brief second to stare doe-eyed at his new surroundings. After that it was back to the business of putting on a good fucking show.

Opener the National stutter-stepped into "Anyone's Ghost." Full-sounding and textured in the vast space, the track from 2010's exploration of a mood, High Violet, floated over a half-full floor and sparsely-populated seats. During a 13-song set, the National took time to develop its sound, as frontman Matt Berninger's baritone tinged layers of melancholia over Bryan Devendorf's circular drumbeats and the horn section's dark undertones.

The National's studio arrangements are precise cascades, so it was surprising when the band dropped the piano and inserted a dance beat during "Slow Show" from 2007's glorious Boxer: It was a less-than-great version of an aching, tender song that holds out hope for redemption in love, even though - and because - everyone at some point is a paranoid fuck-up. More effective was "Afraid of Everyone," during which Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry provided hushed backing vocals as the song shimmied into a sublime guitar reckoning of a sidewalk panic-attack.

On "Mr. November," Berninger took his comedic lap around the venue, looping through the floor's stock-still crowd. Up in the stands, he clotheslined at least four sections of fans, dragging the endless microphone cord, passed hands-over-head like the train of a royal wedding veil.

The National may make sad-bastard music, but it's the black humor around every corner that rings most true.

national-review.jpg
Todd Owyoung

Under a video screen display that looked like the marquee for a science fiction B-movie drive-in, Arcade Fire played 90 minutes of open-road anthems. Half of the seventeen song set came off Album-of-the-Year Grammy-winning The Suburbs, and while the songs are mostly set in cul-de-sacs, the Canadian collective propelled the show to catharsis. Members switched positions between each song, and despite the musical chairs interruptions, Win Butler and Co. kept up the energy.

Arcade Fire's arrangements are dense, playful, variegated and tight - and therefore don't vary much from the recording when played live. One exception was "Rococo," which is cloying on record, but with big crowd response, more pronounced synth-shots and ghostly background vocals, it took on the dimensions of a space station minuet. The other revelation was "The Suburbs," where Butler's jaunty piano bounce became a doubting nostalgia, deepening into "The Suburbs (Continued)" and RĂ©gine Chassagne's whispered echoes.

In a cast of talented, jubilant performers, including a couple giant-sized Texans -- Chassagne outshone them all -- whether sharing vocals with husband Win Butler on the solar-flare chorus of "Empty Room" (with its string part masterminded by Owen Pallett) or vamping like a broken-doll chanteuse on "Haiti." Her charm and power culminated with show-closer "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," a standout disco-beat on which Chassagne channeled Blondie and Cyndi Lauper, singing from the gut against malaise.

Critic's Notebook: Though I love Funeral, I managed to avoid the hubbub of the last eight months surrounding the release of The Suburbs and its subsequent Grammy win. After repeated listens, I didn't get the this-band-will-save-your-life fervor, and after seeing Arcade Fire put on a hard-working show that lacked ego and often soared, I'm no closer to understanding the vitriol. These wide-screen songs are gorgeous and sometimes even transcendent. So what's the big fucking deal?

By the Way: For those of you who didn't think it could be done, St. Louis ticket-buyers may have successfully underrated Arcade Fire last night.

Random Detail: Mountains Beyond Mountains, part of the title of the song "Sprawl II," is also the title of a book by Tracy Kidder written about Dr. Paul Farmer, one of the founders of Partners in Health. Butler announced that $1 from every ticket sold last night would go to Partners in Health's efforts in Haiti. Chassagne is of Haitian ancestry, as her parents emigrated to Canada during the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier.

The National Setlist:
1. Start a War
2. Anyone's Ghost
3. Brainy
4. Bloodbuzz Ohio
5. Slow Show
6. Afraid of Everyone
7. Conversation 16
8. Abel
9. Apartment Story
10. England
11. Fake Empire
12. Mr. November
13. Terrible Love

Arcade Fire Setlist:
1. Ready to Start
2. Rebellion (Lies)
3. Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
4. Empty Room
5. Modern Man
6. Rococo
7. The Suburbs
8. Intervention
9. No Cars Go
10. Haiti
11. We Used To Wait
12. Keep the Car Running
13. Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
14. Wake Up
Encore:
15. Month of May
16. Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
17. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)


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44 comments
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Anthony
Anthony

Speaking of scottrade, if you happen to open an account with them use the promo code, WPHF6303, to get your first three trades free! That's $21s free!

Stlcityrocker
Stlcityrocker

Can't recall where, but I saw 7:30 as the start time of the show, so I missed the National's 1st 3 songs. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed both bands and boogied as much as one is able to in the seats. Don't get me started on TM and their "web-redirecting" strategy that resulted in my unwittingly buying my tix through TicketExchange (owned by TM).

skoz
skoz

For those wondering why more people didn't show, I would venture to say that a good percentage of the Arcade Fire/National fanbase found not only ticket price, but especially the outrageous Ticketbastard tack-ons to be cost prohibitive. I've seen Arcade Fire twice before (Mojo's in '04 and Lollapalooza '05), and those were easily two of my favorite performances I've ever seen. That said, paying that much to see a show in a venue that large... maybe I sound snobby or whatever, but it just doesn't seem worth it. I mean, I think I paid about the same amount to see Springsteen (in the cheapseats, mind you). If the show had been $20-25/seat *total*, place probably would have been crammed.

Ana
Ana

I have liked Arcade Fire since about 2005 mostly thanks to Six Feet Under which got me interested in them. I saw them once before I think in 2007 in Kansas City and the Starlight Theater. The show in St. Louis was much tighter and had a way better setlist. (I'm not too much of a fan of Black Mirror) But the show in Kansas City was my favorite concert ever. I love Arcade Fire and the crowd at KC was going nuts. It was euphoric. I thought it would be like this again and I really tried to go all out but man everyone was such lame ducks. Still enjoyed the show though. Maybe no one moved around because they didn't have any space. I know I was very crowded down on the floor.

ike
ike

Who considers Rococo to be cloying? Easily the second best track on the album, especially performed live.

G238productions
G238productions

I recently just started listening to AF and all I can say about Thursdays concert was WOW. The National set was amazing (although attendance was dim). The romp around the arena got the crowd ready for AF though. I was truly amazed at their performance.

Jeff McDowell
Jeff McDowell

i enjoyed the show a ton last night.. the national were in such a light and fun mood, that they seemed to be enjoying themselves much moreso than at their show at the pageant a few months ago. it really was the perfect opening set for the evening, and matt's deep baritone sounded amazing bouncing around the cavernous scottrade.

arcade fire was epic, as they always are. i was in chicago last summer for their lolla set, and consider that set one of the 2 or 3 best that i have ever seen, last night's show was great, but not on the same level. as others have mentioned, i think that the main difference was in the crowd response. very few people were moving around and dancing, even during "Haiti" and "Keep the Car Running".. arcade fire are such a great live band, because of their endless energy, their raw musical talent, and their humble outlook on their success..

nick
nick

Anyone know what song The National walked out to?

Christian
Christian

"The Man in Me" by Bob Dylan, immortalized in "The Big Lebowski."

Anonymous
Anonymous

Mixmaster, I'd agree that the commercial stations in StL leave a lot desired but maybe you should turn your dial all the way to the left to 88.1. They've been playing both of these bands for years.

MixMaster
MixMaster

I may try that. With XM, I try to avoid commerical radio but will give it a shot. Thanks for the heads up.

guest
guest

88.1 isn't commercial - it's listener supported. Anyways, I've had the chance to live in a bunch of cities in US and Europe, and 88.1 is unlike anything I've ever heard in terms of the variety of music they play. It's really a treasure that few in this town know about.

Rootbeerpies
Rootbeerpies

After living in New York for 17 years, then moving back to St. Louis last year, I now see clearly the weird sense of self-negation and diminished expectations exhibited by some Midwesterners and manifested in a few comments below. I don't think I ever fully considered the various meanings of our motto ("Show-Me State") until right now.

Maybe it has something to do w/ Midwestern reserve or, possibly, the unformed identity of many 20-something indie fans (are AF even "indie" anymore?) who aren't yet comfortable in their own shoes - G-d knows, I was largely depressed, unsure of myself and looking to others for my identity during my 20's (and 30's for that matter!) - but that show blew me away last night.

I saw the same line-up 3 years ago at a theater in NYC. AF was as brilliant then as they were last night. I don't even own any of their albums - I still manifest some of that weird, neurotic, self-negating, anxiety of influence thing where I distance myself from buying certain things (like AF CDs) as a means of guaranteeing my own individuality! I guess I'm still a Missourian at heart!!!

Anyway, I thought the crowd was strangely subdued, as others have pointed out. I kept waiting for the GA crowd to start bobbing/pogo-ing together in unison, but things never fully exploded in quite that way. Nonetheless, the crowd was so appreciative, as was the band. I try and keep a noncommittal attitude toward AF. I know they're good, but don't want to be thought of as drinking the Kool-Aid, but their show is flipping incredible regardless of room size.

I drove downtown an hour b4 show time and was rewarded w/ a free ticket from 3 high schoolers from Springfield, MO. I was in row S along one of the sides (104?). From the beginning, I told myself, I don't give a f*** what anyone thinks of me, and just decided to let go. I was swinging my head from side-to-side (and semi-pogoing as well!) throughout the entire show and managed to psychically link up w/ 5 or 6 people around me who joined together in a common sense of euphoric purpose. Even had I paid $39 I think I'd have been grateful to just be there.

A few thoughts from a 42-year old

lover but not dancer
lover but not dancer

I was on the floor, about three people deep, and I have to say that I felt almost weird moving around as much as I did. I came into the show thinking that if I got that close, there would be some shared bond and interest in the band that would thus make us all move and shake in unison. Instead, I had to stay half-self-conscious about how MUCH I was moving so that I didn't infringe on all the people standing still and staring.

I don't think it was a coincidence that the led the encore with "Month of May"; bunch of kids standing with their arms folded tight we were.

20-something indie fan
20-something indie fan

As a member of the 20-something horde, there's a good possibility I saw you at some point during the night; those who weren't part of the above mentioned group stood out.

I'm also frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm in crowds such as these, though it's hard to avoid that situation any shows that are remotely"indie/hipster." I think the best way I've ever described the typical crowd of these concerts is a bunch of kids "standing around with expressions of pained ennui on their faces or fixated on their iPhones."

I'd agree with you, because the audience was still better-than-average. I guarantee you I was dancing, as were most of the people around me. It got kind of exhausting by the end of the show, though, and I wished their set was arranged differently.

Otherwise, great show, though it could have used more "Neon Bible!"

Saukrates
Saukrates

I'd rather just stay home and get high and listen to their albums than go to the Scottrade center. If the venue is any bigger than the Pageant I'm not interested.

MixMaster
MixMaster

Loved the show and thought that the crowd was fine. I expected it to be less full, so I was happy to see the turnout. But if we want a better turnout we need to get better radio stations here in STL. Thankfully I have XM and can regularly hear both bands. But in STL a station like the Point plays the same garbage regularly and may sprinkle in some good stuff like both bands.

grasshut
grasshut

EXTREMELY disappointed AF didn't play Black Mirror. Otherwise the show was amazing.

I Like Pizza
I Like Pizza

I would have liked "In The Backseat" but no way that was going to happen.

anonymous
anonymous

Ideally I think that it would have been so much better if Arcade Fire/National could have done like a 2- or 3-night stand at the Pageant. Or if they had played the Fox.

Also, @mrs: Amen to what you said about Twilight Singers. I was so disappointed at the turnout at the MS Nights show back in '06...and obviously, they haven't been back since.

mrs
mrs

I thought the same thing regarding the 2-nighter at The Pageant. The Pageant was dark last night, but I don't think date-wise, it would work, as I'm assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that this AF date was an add-on.

And yeah, I was at that '06 show. They were also competing with Halloween, but still. I'd seen them the WEEK before in LA at a packed-to-the-gills House of Blues. (which is much larger in LA than in other cities). It was quite a stark contrast, ha. Apparently, The Mercy Lounge in Nashville is a great house for their kind of band, so I'm headed there in a couple weeks to see them before they "retire", too.

anonymous
anonymous

Mrs--say it isn't so. Are Twilight Singers really 'retiring'?!!! Shit. I need to get to one of the other shows. Hopefully Dulli will keep on with Gutter Twins and doing the occasional solo tour. New album sounds good, too...don't give up yet!

Jason Rosenbaum
Jason Rosenbaum

I am kind of bandwagon Arcade Fire guy, as I didn't really start listening to them that carefully until last year. Needless to say, I was very, very satisfied with yesterday's show. First of all, despite their burst of mainstream success, it seems that the band members were totally enjoying themselves and exuded a ton of energy. And also, I was surprised by how many instruments the band members knew how to play. Chassagne must have played like 5 or 7, including the drums.

I actually thought the turnout was decent, you got to think that there's just not enough people who like this type of music in the St. Louis area. This band probably would have filled a football stadium in Portland.

Debbie Downer
Debbie Downer

Perhaps they should have played "Wake Up" first, because most of the crowd seemed to be asleep. The floor was totally dead, and most of the fans in the seated sections just stood there, lifeless, like a bunch of trees. I was also disappointed with the turnout, if Chicago can sell out 3 nights this weekend (and yes, I realize they are much bigger in population but still....) why can't St Louis fill up one night in Scottrade, when they weren't even using the big stage set up. They had the stage at like half court. There is a reason bands pass us over to play KC instead. From all accounts, their show wednesday night was a full house.

dawhizz
dawhizz

I'm trying not to sound like the old guy that I am (though undoubtedly I will), but crowds don't seem to do much moving anymore in general. You get some outliers, but it seems to me one of the common theme of shows in the last few years is the sheer lack of movement in the audience (though less so in smaller venues like the Firebird). I can't remember the last show I went to at the Pageant where the crowd really moved, Girl Talk excepted (maybe Gogol Bordello?). I think a stagnant crowd on the floor is the norm rather than the exception anymore.

And don't even get me started on requesting encores . . .

MixMaster
MixMaster

Max at KC arena was 8,000. Not sure what the total was for the Trade, but Post listed as a sell out. They skip STL because it is 3-4K or 19K. If we had a 8K place...

Under Cover Weekend
Under Cover Weekend

Scottrade has 19,150 seats, which obviously does not include the floor for concerts. The most who have ever attended an event there is in the 22k's which was for college basketball.

The AF show was in what they refer to as the Concert Club at Scottrade which effectively cuts the arena down to 10k-ish. Chaifetz, if a concert was given the whole room to work with, would probably be 8k-ish and was setup for 5k for shows like the recent Vampire Weekend / Beach House show.. The Fox is around 5k and the Pageant 2400.

mrs
mrs

Loved The National (again), loved Arcade Fire (again) (but I miss LCD Soundsystem). And yes, St. Louis underrates many acts - Twilight Singers, The Hold Steady, New Pornos, to name a few. The only reason Radiohead was sold out at Verizon was because it was the beginning of the tour and there were a ton of outstaters there.

The fact that I've been able to see The National here 3 times in 4 years still confuses me. We're in the land of Sammy, DMB, and Rib America. Don't expect anyone here to care about AF (Grammy or not) unless it's someone who actually goes out of their way to find music that isn't AOR. And that's what, 10% of the country, 2% of the this particular city?

Actually, I myself would never have heard of AF had I not been a hard core "Six Feet Under" fan. Someone there liked the band very early on -- closed 2 epis with their songs - "Rebellion (Lies)," and "Cold Wind". After I heard "Rebellion (Lies)," I HAD to know about this band.

Half the people that shit all over AF don't even know that their precious NFL uses "Wake Up" in their promos. So, there you go and there you are.

MixMaster
MixMaster

Radiohead did well here because they don't play every city and we had a few people come from other areas. It was hard to do that with AF because they played KC the night before and Chicago tonight.

Julio
Julio

In my humble opinion, this show was even better than the Radiohead show a few years ago at the Verizon shed. So much more rocking, so much more energy. Better songs, too!

arc
arc

I would rate this show along with the Radiohead and Wilco shows as the top three shows I have been to in St. Louis. Yesterday's show was unbelievable in how good an honest set can get. With music that intense they just needed to stand there and deliver.... and like hell they did.

Steve O.
Steve O.

Love the comment on 'underrating' Arcade Fire. I kept looking around during The National's set thinking, "Doesn't St. Louis know what they're missing??" I was a little disappointed that it was such a late arriving crowd, most getting there AFTER the opener. Even if you don't know the opener (which you should with a band like that), it's just common music courtesy to get there and check them out. They're hard working guys too! (side note: Berninger was hanging out on the floor with the general admission folks during Arcade's set, just standing listening to music. Pretty cool). Overall a GREAT show...St. Louis really didn't know what it was missing.

happyguy
happyguy

Great review. Well written. Recapped a beautifulll night!

yooo
yooo

The national didn't open with and didn't even play Runaway...

KJMoulton
KJMoulton

Thanks @yooo and @Gerald - mistake fixed.

your mom's mom
your mom's mom

Good to see Firemarshall Bill get back on his feet.

Gerald
Gerald

Great review...incredible to see this kind of turnout in St. Louis. The size of the arena forced Matt B. of The National to belt it out even more so than he did at the Pageant's October show. Pretty lame response from the crowd until his wander-the-arena thing. And that drew people in? Maybe they were too busy eating their funnel cakes (I witnessed two in my row being consumed during the first hour).Their first song was "Start A War".

dawhizz
dawhizz

I thought the reaction to Abel was pretty strong. Seems to me most of their songs don't really lend themselves to an overly emotional response.

David Kroll
David Kroll

I agree. The National is one of my favorite bands but I find it hard to go nuts at their shows.

MusicIsTheBigDeal
MusicIsTheBigDeal

What a shoddy written review. Your critics notebook section makes no sense whatsoever. "These wide-screen songs are gorgeous and sometimes even transcendent. So what's the big fucking deal?" You already answered the inane question.

Kiernan Maletsky
Kiernan Maletsky

Just because you disagree with something doesn't make it poorly written. Katie's responding to people who hate them because they're famous or deify them despite the fact that they are just a band with some truly great songs.

Mike Appelstein
Mike Appelstein

Nice review! I'm with you on the severe reactions: The Arcade Fire neither saved nor ruined my life. Perhaps it's the usual backlash when a band blows up to this level?

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