Arcade Fire Bud Light Stage, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Zilker Park September 18, 2011
Sunday night in a serene Zilker Park, Arcade Fire made an appropriately historic closer for the Austin City Limits Music Festival's 10th anniversary. Although Stevie Wonder's seniority won him the lead spot on this year's lineup card - as well it should have - the Montreal crew with the two transplanted Texans is the first band formed in the 21st century to ascend to the pinnacle of having ACL entirely to itself.
That also means Arcade Fire is the first ACL closer that has the Internet to thank for its popularity rather than widespread radio play, but since their earliest days have delivered the live goods to back up all the blog buzz. (So have the Walkmen, one of Rocks Off's other Sunday favorites alongside Ryan Bingham and Manu Chao.) Each album has risen Arcade Fire a notch or two higher in ACL's pecking order, from Funeral-marching Wilco table-setters in '05 to Neon Bible-thumping Friday-night '07 closers to Sunday stand-alones preaching the gospel of The Suburbs.
They're grateful, too. "We feel like this is our hometown show in the States," Win Butler told the thousands upon thousands spread out before the Bud Light Stage after opener "Ready To Start."
Hmmm. That sounded suspiciously like what he told The Woodlands crowd at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion back in May ("Good evening, The Woodlands. It's good to be home"), but then again, so did the set list. Slide "Wake Up" to the middle, where its chorale of vocals made a majestic partner to the politically barbed, pipe-organ-fueled "Intervention" - Butler: "We wrote this song the last time the governor of Texas was running for president" - and "Rebellion (Lies)" to the encore.
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That's about it besides a couple of deletions for time's sake. We could hear that relentless bass pulse of "Rebellion" all the way back by the Zilker gates, too.
Almost all of Arcade Fire's songs are made for the great outdoors. The "Neighborhood" trilogy of Funeral's "Laika," "Power Out" and "Tunnels" may have been born in the cramped, dank basements and rehearsal spaces of Montreal, but they blossomed into full-grown festival anthems Sunday night. No roof could hope to contain the teeth-spitting punk venting of "Month of May" or the calyso-tinged sea breeze of "Haiti," one of Regine Chassagne's memorable contributions.
The other was Sunday's actual closer "Sprawl 2 (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," which as our colleague Mr. Hlavaty has also pointed out, may be the best Blondie song Deborah Harry never touched. We heard it well on our way down Barton Springs Road, and it sounded wonderful - that's how far, and how well, Arcade Fire's songs carry.
When Rocks Off saw the band at the Pavilion in May, in retrospect, we were sitting too close to get the full effect - like watching an IMAX movie from the front row. We wanted a more widescreen perspective, so Sunday we sat way, way in the back of the crowd, perched on the hill by ACL's miniature model of the state capitol.
We couldn't make out exactly one song, the one after "Haiti," so we moved down to where we finished watching Stevie Wonder Saturday: The soundboard by the Google+ stage, still a good 1,000-something feet away, in time for "Intervention" and got no further.
We could have been back at Emo's, where we first saw Arcade Fire in January 2005. In one way or another, all of Arcade Fire's songs are about the struggle to make a connection - with your neighbors, your surroundings, your society, yourself. It should come as no surprise that a band this resolute and passionate can close such distances with only a few guitars, keyboards, violins and drums.
That's how they made it to Sunday night at ACL in the first place.
Personal Bias: The more I see and listen to Arcade Fire, the more convinced I am that they are one of the few bands of their generation that one day people will talk about like people of my generation talk about U2, The Clash and Talking Heads. A lot of people already do.
The Crowd: Young and devoted, but anxious to get home. I saw lots of lips moving on people walking by on their way to the exit.
Overheard In the Crowd: One girl leaving during "The Suburbs" was whistling the melody as she walked out. It made me think of the Sesame Street theme.
Random Notebook Dump: Total distance I covered on foot during ACL weekend (albeit not just at Zilker Park): 25.2 miles.
Ready to Start Keep the Car Running No Cars Go Haiti Rococo Speaking In Tongues Intervention Wake Up Neighborhood #2 (Laika) The Suburbs Month of May Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) We Used To Wait Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
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Rebellion (Lies) Sprawl 2 (Mountains Beyond Mountains)