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United Palace Theater, New York
Monday, May 7
Dualities were ever present Monday at the United Palace Theater, where Arcade Fire began a series of three New York shows (the last at Radio City Music Hall). This Canadian band, which has made an extremely fast rise to the top with their sophomore album, the recently released “Neon Bible,” delivers a live show that can best be described as organized chaos. And their music, which often deals with themes of despair and loss, is nothing less than exultant in its emotional impact.
The relatively new venue — a former movie palace built in 1930 that has for many years been used as a church — was the perfect setting for the show, which featured a giant neon bible, replicating the one on the album cover, hovering over the onstage proceedings.
The band, expanded to 10 musicians for this tour from its usual seven, delivered its anthemic brand of rock, channeling influences ranging from Springsteen to U2, with an energy and exuberance all too rarely encountered these days. Playing on instruments that included violins, French horns, accordions and a hurdy-gurdy, the musicians seemed simultaneously to be in their own universe and in perfect accord.
Lead singer Win Butler’s quavery voice, accompanied by often gorgeous backup harmonies, is the perfect vocal instrument for the band’s highly emotional brand of music. Songs including “Black Mirror,” so stark and hypnotic on the album, surged in concert with an orchestral urgency. Although such high-energy numbers from the new release as “Keep the Car Running” and “Intervention” were the clear audience favorites, even the quieter, folk-tinged songs made a powerful impression.
Watching the musicians was nearly as much fun as listening to them. Alternating instruments with abandon and playing with a joyful fervor that was highly contagious, they demonstrated a real sense of showmanship. Particularly entertaining was the frenzied percussion by two of the musicians in which they seemed to be banging on everything in sight.
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