I Kinda Like It: Tales of an Arcade Fire-Ambivalent Music Journalist

Categories: Fiesta!

Worse yet, the band waited nearly two months to issue a formal "apology" via its Facebook page, posting in part "To everyone really upset about us asking people to dress up at our shows... please relax. It's super not mandatory." Hm. This seems like the wrong approach, entirely. They said it was mandatory, but then they said it's not and then they seemed to imply that the fans were stupid for getting "really upset."

If the band wanted to inspire a sense of spontaneous community in fans by getting them to dress up and have fun, this was a whack-ass way to go about it. Here, it seems, the band could take some advice from the Flaming Lips. Instead of encouraging fun, AF tried to make it mandatory. It's hard to defend something like that and this is where the bands' aloofness again works against them. It might not seem fair, but people can only go on what you show them. And when all you seem to show them is crap like this, they'll respond accordingly.

The only, and I mean only, good PR move I've seen Arcade Fire pull in the last few years was appearing on Saturday Night Live. The song performances were okay, but the band members participated in a comedy sketch that showed the public that they might actually have a sense of humor about themselves. A few members of the band participated in a scene that was fully at the expense of their egos, with Butler taking the brunt of Tina Fey's ribbing. (She said he looked like, "Some kind of hipster Paul Bunyan. Could be a Civil War reenactor or some kind of Serbian basketball player," and that the band's old-timey instruments look "massively stupid.") Butler even did an impersonation of Robert De Niro on-air -- it was the first public display of levity or humor I'd seen from him in years.

I was laying in bed a couple of weeks ago with my dude friend and we were talking about the special releases for this year's Record Store Day. I was going on and on about how great R.E.M.'s MTV "Unplugged" recordings were and forced him to listen to a bootleg copy of a song that I had on my phone. He was patient through the song and then took a deep breath and said, "Every R.E.M. song sounds like it's trying to break my heart but it just never can."

As soon as he said it I realized that's how I feel about Arcade Fire: It is trying to break my heart but it just never can. I can feel the intensity but it just doesn't sway me. I think the band is good at what it does, it's probably just not for me. I'm glad that the generation just younger than me seems to enjoy it -- I really think they could (and do) like a whole lot worse. But with Arcade Fire, I just don't know what to think anymore. Am I letting my fondness for a dude I hung out with as a kid sway my views? I don't know. Music appreciation and tastes are so personal and complicated, even sometimes for those of us who get paid to have an opinion.

With this band it's not like I feel that I don't care, it's more like I'm just not sure how to feel at all. I have strong feelings in both directions. Am I missing something here? Persuade me either way.


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John LeGrand
John LeGrand

Interesting, well written article. I feel the same way about AF..


Arcade Fire basically wanted to bring Kanaval to their shows which is why they asked people to dress up. They just wanted to share what they had experienced in Haiti with their fans. Hardcore fans were elated with the costume, formal wear request. It became a way to connect even further with the band. The concerts are like a huge halloween party! Like who hates halloween dance parties? lol The only people who complained about the "mandatory" costume/formal wear request were journalists, people you couldn't even necessarily call a fan. (people like you) 

I wouldn't even try to persuade you to like Arcade Fire because it's so plainly obvious you don't like them. Stop forcing yourself. 

Otherwise, have a nice day :)

Danny Yosbornata
Danny Yosbornata

I just got paid $7500 working off my computer this month. And if you think that's cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $8k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I dow ­w­w­.ℳ­ℴ­ℕ­ℯ­y­ℙ­ℯ­ℊ­.C­O­M


Thanks for writing Jaime. Your perception is unique, and you're on point with the facts.

I dunno though...for me Win's aloofness makes him more endearing...like they're this really great cult band that due to their perfect timing managed to go mainstream, and with that mainstream success came handlers who are hell bent on making them into the next U2...which alienates the cult and the musician class...but Win's insistence on re-conceptualizing the band every album/tour cycle (this is one area where Arcade Fire clearly have the purist high ground on Flaming Lips) along with the PR gaffes undermine that mission

at this point, they're a band without a country...yet the fact that they've never released a bad album and aspire to be the best live band in the world means they will always be relevant


Mostly for me, the resonance is in The Suburbs because it's an album about growing up in the aforementioned 'burbs and being hella disaffected by it. And then becoming an adult that's soaking in their own guilt and shame. One of the first songs has the line "the businessman drank my blood / like the kids in the art school said they would" which is pretty much the band's stance on big label money and the middle class in general. 

i dunno, shit like that speaks to me.


Hello Jaime - I just want to say right off that I'm not here to convince you to like Arcade Fire; the beauty of rock and roll is that we can all have different opinions on the bands we love!  One of my favorite quotes about this comes from Bruce Springsteen's SXSW speech from a couple of years ago.  Talking about this concept, he said "but you can pick any band, say KISS, and you can go, 'Early Theatre Rock proponents, expressing the true raging hormones of youth' or 'They suck!'"  So, I'm certainly not going to go against The Boss and try to convince anyone that Arcade Fire composes brilliant music.

I actually first heard of Arcade Fire after they played with Bruce in Ottawa in 2007.  Win and Regine performed with him on one of his songs, then he performed with them on one of theirs.  After hearing about this, I downloaded Neon Bible and immediately fell in...um...interest with it.  Like another band I love, The National, the music of Arcade Fire takes repeated listenings for me to fall in love with it.  When I first heard The Suburbs, the only song I really loved was Sprawl II.  Now, I love the whole damn album.  So, only hearing parts of Reflektor in a friend's car probably isn't the best way to form an opinion about the album, in my opinion.

As for their infamous "dress code," please know that most of their fans (above the casual level, anyway) knew that it wasn't going to be mandatory during their main tour.  They wanted a certain vibe for their small club shows earlier last year (some of which were filmed for that post-SNL special) and asked that people either come in costume or dress in formal wear.  These shows only had room for a couple hundred people, not the 1000s who would attend their shows this year.  Heck, for these club shows, they even provided "appropriate" clothing or costumes for the people who were in line and not wearing one.  When they tried to extend this vibe for their arena shows, certain members of the music press blew it out of proportion and freaked a lot of the casual fans out.  For the record, I saw them at their opening night in Louisville with a hoodie on over a t-shirt and jeans and blended in quite nicely with dozens of people around me not wearing anything formal.

Anyway, thanks for reading this and thank you for that goofy picture of Win from back in the day.  It sounds like he was and still is a great guy; I think he just rubs some people the wrong way sometimes.  Oh well - that's rock and roll, right?  :)


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