Arcade Fire Brings Reflektor Basement Party to Detroit Arena
On Monday night, Arcade Fire’s arena tour in support of Reflektor made a stop just outside Detroit at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The band turned the home of the Detroit Pistons into a tropical-themed house party, but ultimately, such a large arena didn’t feel like the right space to see or hear the critically acclaimed indie darlings.
Fans showed up decked out in either formal wear or costumes at the band’s request, which made the show feel more like a party than a performance. Arcade Fire caught some flak from fans and the press after announcing its request that fans dress up for shows, but frontman Win Butler thanked audience members for making the extra effort to dress up, saying, “I know it seems silly, but it makes the show really fun.”
Arcade Fire hasn’t played in Motor City since a tiny gig at the Magic Stick a decade ago. Playing for an estimated crowd of 7,000 at the Palace shows how far the band has come in the past ten years, but it was still difficult not to feel as though the group’s sound would have been better served at the Fillmore or the Fox. Plus, those holding tickets in the upper bowl of the arena got bumped down to better seats, as not enough tickets were sold to fill the stadium.
The dozen-plus member band did have a good time working with such a large space. The arena was decorated with palm trees and a giant projector played weird images behind the group. The tropics, voodoo, and Haiti specifically are big aesthetic themes on Reflektor, and Butler paused halfway through the show to plug the organization Partners in Health, which has built a large teaching hospital in the country and helps provide medical care to Haitians.
The band used a stage in the middle of the floor various times through the night, with multi-instrumentalist Regine Chassagne singing a duet with husband Butler from across the stadium while a dancer dressed as a skeleton lurked behind her on “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus).” At one point, a person dressed in a bizarre suit made of broken mirrors stood on the platform to act as a human disco ball.
Later, during the encore, the band punked the audience by staging a fake group dressed in the same paper mache heads as The Reflektors, a name that Arcade Fire played secret shows under after first unveiling Reflektor. The audience swarmed around the smaller podium while the fake Reflektors played Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” which the real Arcade Fire interrupted back on the main stage with Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” which Butler sang while wearing a TV set on his head that projected images of disgraced former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
The band played a decent chunk of Reflektor but also included favorites from Funeral, Neon Bible, and The Suburbs. Butler gave a shout out to Detroit before the group launched into Neon Bible’s “Keep the Car Running” and called The Suburbs’ “Rococo” “our inescapable number-one smash hit single.” They closed out the night with Funeral favorite and deserved classic “Wake Up.”
Audience members danced with abandon and everyone seemed to be having a great time, but a smaller venue would have allowed listeners to tease out the complications within Arcade Fire’s cacophony. The giant wall of sound produced by the dozen-plus people onstage didn’t carry the subtleties that were surely happening with such a big group of talented musicians.
Arcade Fire is moving toward becoming arena rock legends along the lines of U2, but the few thousand fans that could have been squeezed into the beautiful Fillmore theater would have been rewarded with a better show than those filling the Palace. But that’s all a given. Everyone knows shows are more intimate and have better sound in smaller venues, but Arcade Fire is set on rising to the highest echelons of rock stardom, of which arena tours are an integral aspect.
“We’re trying to make the show like our basement,” Butler said, “but if our basement fits however many thousand people.” The group nailed giving the arena concert the feel of a basement show, but it was impossible to make the sound feel that intimate in such a large space. Perhaps if you weren’t cool enough to catch that gig at the Magic Stick in 2004, you’ve missed your window to see Arcade Fire in a small venue, unless they pull another stunt posing as The Reflektors.
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