Last Night: Arcade Fire At Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

Arcade Fire, Explosions In the Sky Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion May 4, 2011

Check out pics of Arcade Fire's intimate concert in our slideshow.

It was a sort of homecoming for titanic indie-rockers Arcade Fire Wednesday night in the Woodlands, as the band returned to Houston after five momentous years to play songs from The Suburbs, the Album of the Year-winning disc that was inspired in part by the neighborhoods surrounding the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion where members Win and Will Butler spent their formative years.

The venue's lawn was closed, a marked change from the usual sight of the teeming numbers lying on blankets and quilts. Bringing the crowd closer in to the stage, utilizing all of the covered seating - and only the covered seating - turned what is usually a terrifyingly alienating shed into a warmer club or theater setting.

Austin openers Explosions In The Sky laid down a perfect mist of their own churning instrumental rock around 8 p.m. to sate the noise-hungry masses. Their signature sound, intricate guitars and swelling expanses, is more of a main-course musical dish and not an opener, but they thrilled fans and newbies alike.

Aftermath took a lap around CWMP after getting a beverage and even the seats 100 yards back were great. Whether that was a band or Live Nation call, we don't know. The key element in Arcade Fire's success is the feeling of intimacy, on record and in the flesh, and we couldn't imagine seeing them in any place bigger than what they created in the Woodlands last night.

Thinking about seeing them at Madison Square Garden or Zilker Park seems like a clinical concept now.

Opening with clips from tribal youth flicks like Over The Edge and The Warriors put the band's Suburbs in the perfect context we had been waiting for. It's not an album about hating the suburbs, it's about the simple joys there, and the triumph of bringing those joys with you once you leave it.

Every AF disc has been about the suburbs in one way or the other, whether those of the mind or a physical locale. Look back at the band's Funeral album. They have been blessed with the gift of longing that makes them and Bruce Springsteen so good at conveying isolation while amongst great numbers, and feeling powerless in the midst of opulence.

The stabbing snare of "Ready To Start" got us kicked off around 9:30 p.m., with the crowd surging forward almost instantly. As for the band's supposedly tepid relationship with The Woodlands, Win Butler stepped out after that first song to ingratiate himself to his home base.

"Good evening The Woodlands, Texas. It's good to be home," Butler bellowed happily, his greeting met by manic applause and cheers. After so many tales through the grapevine of the bandleader feeling less than complimentary of The Woodlands and the area to the south, it was nice to hear.

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty