With Hamilton Leithauser
Red Hat Amphitheater
It’s honestly been a long time since I paid much attention to Arcade Fire, and hadn’t even considered going to this show until a free ticket fell in my lap. The tickets came via the age-old scenario we’ve all been through multiple times – the lead singer of a popular band, through a never-ending list of intermediaries, contacts your basketball group and wants to play pick-up. Afterward, he gives the group a bunch of tickets to their show the next day. You then attend the show with a bunch of those basketball friends, and some of them get drunk off of expensive beers. Pretty boiler plate stuff.
On its own, I was on the fence at even attending the gig until I saw Hamilton Leithauser was opening – that immediately put me fully in. You may or may not know Hamilton was the singer of the Walkmen, who were goddamn great and everyone should listen to their album “Bows + Arrows” if it’s not already a part of your regular music rotation. Despite my love of his previous band I had been totally unaware of Hamilton’s solo career, but I wasn’t particularly worried about how I might feel about it – no matter the music, as long as his voice is front and center, it’s going to be no worse than pretty good. And that is precisely what was witnessed – the guitars weren’t as driving as the Walkmen, the songs a little more subdued…but basically it felt like I was hearing Walkmen songs I’d never heard before. It was mostly acoustic and a little (intentionally) ramshackle, and might have been a small step back from the Walkmen, but this material certainly was worth a listen and had me wanting to hear more of it. I immediately went home and set to downloading this solo material, because even Walkmen-lite is worth a listening.
I saw Arcade Fire in the relatively small Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco back in 2004 just after “Funeral” came out – things have certainly changed since then. I was surprised when I saw two giant HD video screens above the stage, wondering when Red Hat installed them - until it dawned on me the band was actually travelling with them! If you need a tractor trailer to haul all of your stage props to each performance, you’re on the next level from the sort of shit I typically enjoy. Then again, when the live performance is also a huge spectacle, it can be pretty entertaining even if you’re indifferent to many of the songs they’re actually playing. They actually did a good job with their set list – not leaning too heavily on their most recent album “Everything Now,” playing songs from across their entire career. I was pleased to get to hear material from their first couple of records, since I’ve actually listened to “Funeral” and “Neon Bible” a fair amount. As for newer tracks, they’ve apparently leaned heavily into dance pop/disco lately – not really my bag, but I guess the rest of the crowd was feeling it. They closed out the affair with a huge crowd sing-a-long version of “Wake Up” – that might be as much crowd participation as I’ve ever seen and/or heard. It was quite impressive actually.