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Concert Review: Arcade Fire as The Reflektors at 299 Meserole: October 19, 2013

October 21, 2013

Flannel shirt? Check.

Knit hat? Check.

Doc Martens? No, but this isn’t actually 1994 and my Doc look-alikes would just have to do.

Back in the summer I obtained my tickets to see Pearl Jam at the Barclays Center where they performed this Friday and Saturday night (I had tickets to the Saturday night show) and for the first time in my life I was actually going to see them. How is it possible that I never saw Pearl Jam live before? There was that time in 1996 when some of my buddies were going to see them on Randall’s Island, but I was still in a post-Cobain’s suicide malaise that had me rejecting all Nirvana wanna-bes, a category in which I then included Pearl Jam. Then there was Madison Square Garden in 1998 – I went to the Garden and tried to scalp tickets, finding that the get-in-the-door price was more than my nearly empty wallet could afford. PJ came back to the Garden in July 2003, but a personal tragedy kept me away from all shows that summer. They played the Garden yet again in May 2010, but I wasn’t in town to catch those shows. Finally – finally! – I was going to see Pearl Jam, after 20 years of anticipation. They were coming to Brooklyn, I had tickets, no other plans or conflicts – everything was in place.

Then came this announcement. Arcade Fire was going to play two pre-album-release shows as The Reflektors in some warehouse no one had ever heard of in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The shows were scheduled for Friday and Saturday night – the same Friday and Saturday night as Pearl Jam – and Friday night wasn’t an option for me. Tickets were only available to those who bought Reflektor in the pre-sale, which meant that I was shut out. I was disappointed – Arcade Fire is easily one of my five favorite bands, but surely they’d be coming back around to do their own Barclays Center show as part of a broader Reflektor tour. My enthusiasm for Pearl Jam faded a little bit, but my plans stayed the same.

The hours passed by as Saturday afternoon turned to early evening. I couldn’t stop thinking about the missed opportunity to see Arcade Fire. Pearl Jam hadn’t really had a decent album since the late ‘90s, right? Meanwhile, The Suburbs was my favorite album of 2010. Might Reflektor be even better? Their post-Saturday Night Live special in September, filled with all new songs (and celebrity cameos), was fantastic. “Reflektor”, the first single off the new album, is great. Here was a chance to be part of an indie music happening, and I was going to miss it to see an aging grunge band? Thinking about it that way, I knew what I had to do. Something inside of me had changed. The grunge kid that I was 20 years ago was gone; my metamorphosis into someone who prefers The National, LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire was complete. All that was left was to change the clothes. Arcade Fire made clear that for those attending the show formal attire or costume was mandatory. So I shed my flannel, jeans and knit hat for a suit, tie and fedora, swapped my tickets and made my way out to Bushwick. It was a decision I don’t regret.

Outside the warehouse, in the line to get in that wrapped around two blocks, you could see that just about everyone followed the dress code. There were costumes, there was formal wear, and quite often there were formal costumes. Green Latern and the Flash in formal attire. Countless foxes, cats and other assorted animals. Masks and bow ties everywhere. Once inside the atmosphere was festive, as people didn’t push to get close to the stage area or wait restlessly for the band. Everyone was having a good time, enjoying the pre-show music and the odd mixture of clothing and venue. 299 Meserole really was nothing more than a barren warehouse – the amount of work put into converting it into a concert-worthy venue was as minimal as possible. A few lights, the occasional fake tree or disco ball, and of course a poorly constructed stage in front and bar in the back. (There weren’t even bathrooms; port-a-pottys were brought in for the occasion.) Otherwise, we were a couple of thousand people wandering a dark warehouse dressed to the nines. All eagerly anticipating – but not desperately – Arcade Fire taking the stage, which they did around 9:45pm, opening the show with “Reflektor”.

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It was difficult to see the band on the too-low-stage, but easy to dance and rock to the new beats. The Reflektors hardly ever got out of character, playing an eleven song main set which consisted of nine new songs and only two Arcade Fire “covers.” (Before playing “Sprawl II” from The Suburbs, Win Butler noted that they wanted to thank Merge Records and play a cover of a song from one of their Merge label-mates, Arcade Fire.) Win explained that The Reflektors have been together for three years (presumably this is how long Arcade Fire has been working on the new album) and this was their first time playing New York, so they were really excited and nervous. From what I saw and heard on Saturday night, this “new band” is every bit as good as Arcade Fire. Some of the standout new songs include “We Exist”, “Normal Person”, and “Afterlife”. (Full setlist here.) The crowd really exploded for the second to last song, “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” (from their first album, Funeral) and then kept the party going as the set concluded with an amazing rendition of “Here Comes the Night Time”, which is sure to be one of the best songs from the new album. Unlike the previous night, the band realized that an encore was in order (they sort of apologized for not delivering one the night before) and played one more Arcade Fire song, “Haiti”. They then left the stage for good and turned the music over to a “really great DJ. You can stay and dance or go home if that’s not your thing” said Win with a huge smile. About half of the crowd stayed at least for a little bit, once again proving that this night was more party than traditional concert. I’ve read elsewhere that people were somewhat disappointed with the Friday night show (perhaps partly because of the exorbitant prices paid on the second-hand market) because of the somewhat short set, lack of encore, lack of hits and weird venue. I suppose it’s all about expectations. I had a sense going in as to what to expect and ended up pleasantly surprised overall. Perhaps the band also managed things a bit better on night two, such as playing the aforementioned encore and even joking about the $5,000 tickets sold on StubHub. This was an event, and I’m glad I was there. As The Reflektors, Arcade Fire is more fun and funnier than ever before. I can’t wait for the album to get here a week from tomorrow.

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As for Pearl Jam, I suppose I’ll see them next time around. Unless of course there’s an LCD Soundsystem reunion that night.

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