There I was at my local Southern California watering hole, pouring back a shot of Old Granddad in celebration of the badass air guitar work I’d just thrown down while “Paradise City” rang out from the juke box. The members of the biker gang with whom I’d nearly had to rumble earlier were now toasting our newfound friendship between boilermakers, and the ten dollars’ worth of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band I’d chosen to play next was just beginning.
Through the wailing harmonica, the warm haze of the booze I’d consumed, and the borrowed wraparound sunglasses of an oddly attractive biker who called himself “Venom,” life was looking pretty good. I was just tearing off my sleeve, keen on fashioning a makeshift headband from it, when my phone vibrated in my pocket. I’d received an email.
From: KH, my trusty LA Music Blog editor
Subject: Arcade Fire on SNL
Hey, Meg — sorry to interrupt your black Mass or midnight gun show or whatever. Have you ever heard Arcade Fire before?
Ugh. Why? “Hang on, Venom. I have to take this.” I handed him my burning unfiltered Camel and, squinting at my phone’s bright screen, pecked out my reply.
Subject: Re: Arcade Fire on SNL
Hey, KH. No problem. About Arcade Fire — nope, never heard ‘em. By the way, do you still have the number to that bail bonds place downtown? Asking for a friend.
xo – Meg
“Venom! Goddamnit!” Mid-reply, a nearby arm-wrestling match had suddenly turned ugly, and Venom had inserted himself directly into the melee. He was almost certainly on probation, and from the looks of the sharpened tin cans and heavy chains that were appearing all around me, this situation was quickly headed south.
Subject: RE: Re: Arcade Fire on SNL
For crying out loud, Meg. Did you meet a guy? Are you at a bar right now? Get a cab home, and watch Arcade Fire on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live. I want a reaction piece. It’ll be an interesting first impression.
P.S. You’re not dating that cult member again, are you? Never mind, I don’t even want to know.
I leaned back on my bar stool, pensive. Venom, despite the devout religious beliefs he’d claimed to have discovered at San Quentin, was now wailing on a fellow biker in a decidedly un-Christian manner, and the first pieces of furniture were beginning to break over the backs of the assembled. Much as I hated to miss hearing my Springsteen selections play, KH was right; it was probably a good time to take off. I wasn’t sure what a rock and roll clown like myself could contribute to a conversation about a hip band like Arcade Fire, but I’ve learned it’s best to trust KH’s instincts when it comes to this sort of thing.
Subject: Re: RE: Re: Arcade Fire on SNL
Sure thing, boss. You’ll have it in the morning.
xoxoxoxo – Meg
P.S. Don’t act like you know my life.
(I become a little defensive when I get the Old Granddad in me.)
I forewent the cab and rode home on the back of a Harley belonging to the gang’s teetotaling leader, T-Bone, who was also eager to avoid the fight on account of his being a middle school English teacher. He bade me farewell, promising to give my regards to Venom, and before long, I found myself in the familiar position of being sprawled on the couch in my apartment, watching repeats of Will & Grace.
I sipped on my freshly poured sloe gin fizz, glassy-eyed, alternately watching bits of the show and wondering if Venom’s neck tattoo had been showing signs of infection, when I happened to glance at the clock. 1:30 AM. Ugh. I write at a snail’s pace. To meet my deadline, I’d have to wake up tragically early, force some coffee down my parched throat, shakily watch an unfamiliar band perform, and somehow formulate a coherent reaction between dry heaves.
Or. OR! I could watch them right now, pound out a brilliant alcohol-fueled reaction, and be free to sleep until my landlord pounds on the door looking for the rent tomorrow.
Of course, I did what any sensible adult would do and watched the Arcade Fire performance that very minute. My reaction is as follows.
The band’s new album, Reflektor, comes out October 29th. Besides performing the album’s title track, Arcade Fire also debuted another song called “Afterlife.” Full disclosure: while I knew there had been some to-do about Arcade Fire’s performance on Saturday Night Live, I had no idea what to expect. However, being drunk, I was pretty much open to anything. I decided to watch the title track first.
There are fifty million people in this band! The lady is speaking French! What’s happening? I’m suddenly reminded of Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.” Is that something we’re nostalgically reliving now? [Editor's note: "The lady" is Régine Chassagne, the Haitian-Quebecoise co-founder of Arcade Fire. Way to go on that research, Meg. -KH]
After a few more sips of my drink, I was digging it a little more. I was also reminded — generically, I’m sure — of Daft Punk’s summer hit “Get Lucky”: the same callback to dance music of yore, the same danceability, the same — son of a bitch! I accidentally clicked on a link to another video. Curse my drunken fingers.
We got some performance art with the glass box. Nice little tie-in with the theme of the song, I guess. I mean, how many people are in this band, though? There are like six guys playing fourteen bongo drums back there. Whoever’s in charge of the head count every time they get on and off the bus must have a nightmare on their hands. “Louie! Willis! Jeremy! Oscar! We have assigned seats for a reason, fellas!”
All jokes aside, I did like the song, and it was a charismatic performance. I’m enjoying this disco/new-wave renaissance, although I’m wary of it. Are the kids enjoying it ironically, or are they sincerely unable to resist the stylings of a musical era their parents aren’t even old enough to appreciate? Time will tell, I suppose. On to the next performance.
Well, it’s clear right away that this is going to be a little different from their first performance. Maybe it’s just my primitive drunken hunger for McDonald’s talking, but I’m getting a serious Hamburglar vibe from this guy. [Editor's note: "This guy" being Win Butler, co-founder of Arcade Fire and husband of the aforementioned Régine Chassagne. Again, Meg, the most basic of Google searches would have yielded this information. -KH]
Maybe I’m just totally gay for the ’80s, but I’m loving this: the coordinated outfits, the flashy lighting, the total Duran Duran/David Bowie/Flock of Seagulls sensibility. And how many instruments are there, for Pete’s sake? On top of the half-dozen bongo players, I see a baritone saxophone, a lady sawing away at a violin, and a third-grader banging a couple of blackboard erasers together, among others. Impressive.
You know what, though? I closed my eyes during that performance, and what I heard was an emotionally charged song describing that desperate last-ditch effort at saving a relationship that we’ve all experienced. Why the guy insists in performing on live national television with raccoon facepaint is anyone’s guess, but the tune holds up when stripped of the spectacle. This is a current band to which I could actually see myself listening based on these performances.
Sure, these tunes are catchy — and who’s saying that’s a bad thing, anyway? — but what I find truly compelling is the underlying passion. There’s an earnestness that really is reminiscent of bygone decades, when sincerity wasn’t such an overlooked commodity. We may have finally reached a time where we can safely and responsibly harken back to the cheesiest of our collective musical influences and use them to create something fresh and enjoyable.
NBC aired a 30-minute post-Saturday Night Live concert special from Arcade Fire featuring three more new songs from Reflektor and many notable celebrity cameos. I was unable to watch it, as I’d long before passed out on the couch, visions of disco balls dancing through my head. Fortunately, I maintained control of my motor skills long enough to hit “submit” on this article, and for that, you’re welcome.
What did you think of Arcade Fire’s performance? Are you embacing the return of synth-driven, ’80s-inspired pop music, or would you rather be gagged with a spoon? Let us know in the comments!
FMI: Arcade Fire