One of the drawbacks of being a heavily buzzing band is the non-stop touring it requires. It's not unheard of for bands to tour for two years off an album that's doing well. Montreal's The Arcade Fire have toured continually since the release of their much-adored debut album, Funeral, last September. Last night, they played Chicago for the fifth time since the album came out.
Even though they played what was, by all estimations, a stellar set, the nine–count 'em–nine people on stage at the Riviera Theatre certainly seemed exhausted. That's doesn't mean they lacked energy; they had that. But it was the kind of running-on-fumes burst of life that you can muster even though you're completely worn out, like an Ironman triathlete who sprints to a finish line before collapsing and shitting all over himself. As they opened with "Wake Up" for the bazillionth time, Win Butler, Regine Chassagne & company still howled to the rafters of the packed 2,300-capacity theater like the song was new. The adoring crowd, of course, roared, particularly when the band played "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" and "Rebellion (Lies)." Take, for example, the self-described John Mayer fans standing behind The A.V. Club and talking at a "Hey, listen to my blathering!" volume:
Chad*: Here we go, a typical Chicago show: a bunch of people standing with their arms crossed.
Tanner*: Totally! I hate that dance they do where they just stand and kinda sway!
Chad: Yeah, it's like, "I'm so cool. Impress me." I don't understand how they can't move to this music!
It should be noted, though, that Chad wasn't exactly rocking out with my-god-this-music-is-going-to-make-my-head-burst fervor. He just kind of swayed, not unlike the people he derided. The difference? Chad occasionally raised his hands in the air. He seemed peeved that he had settled for a seat (though no one really sat during the band's set) in the balcony.
Chad: Dude, if I were down [on the floor], I'd totally take my shirt off!
So The Arcade Fire, exhausted though they were, could at least pack up their tour bus knowing they had inspired a man to go shirtless, if only he weren't stuck with a bunch of snobs on the balcony.
For their part, the members of The Arcade Fire were their usual energetic selves, bouncing around the stage, colliding or nearly colliding with each other and screaming along with every song. Some of the best dancing of the night was performed by Regine Chassagne. During "Haiti" and "In The Backseat," she danced in a way that looked sort of like The Robot meets Elaine Benes.
Around the middle of the set, Butler told the audience The Arcade Fire wouldn't be back in town any time soon. "We're not coming back until we have a million new songs to play," he said, pausing before adding, "That's right:
The band played a two-song encore, ending with "In The Backseat," for which Chassagne changed into a white dress. At the end of the song, Butler and a couple of others switched to acoustic guitars, and the entire band broke the fourth wall and headed out into the crowd, singing and playing the whole time. They stopped in the theater's first-floor foyer, where they held an impromptu hootenanny for a few minutes. The A.V. Club watched from the nearby merch area, where T-shirts sold for a steep $25–maybe they forgot to change prices from Canadian to American dollars after they left Montreal. Seemingly few people bought them.
After their quick jam session in the foyer, The Arcade Fire wound their way outside, where they walked around the entire building on the sidewalk, still playing and singing. Eventually they made their way to a side door on the street and headed back inside. Not bad for a band counting down the days until they can get home and not sing about tunnels, Haiti, or Russian dogs in outer space for a while. This time, sleeping won't be giving in.