Thursday, May 19, 2011

I'll Dig a Tunnel From My Window to Yours

The blogging has been light lately, hasn't it? Life kind of takes over sometimes. I'll be doing something like traveling, or planting flowers, or holding someone's baby or hanging out with friends and think, I really should write a blog about this, it's wonderful, I should share. And then I turn on another episode of The Killing, or I get obsessed with a new hobby like knitting, or I finish reading a book and writing my third book review or I just open the windows and let the spring breeze in and all of my motivation to write disappears, or work keeps me running all day and when I finally get home at night I don't want to think so hard, hard enough to remember how to use punctuation or frankly how to spell the word punctuation. But I'm back on it this week. I have a slew of fabulous trips and concerts and friend gatherings with an additional stack of delightful photos to share. And something for everyone, instead of just my book nerd following. So let's get started!

Ah, Arcade Fire. And The National. Two indie powerhouses brought together to rock my April.

Yeah, I think that'll be close enough... #national/arcadefire

Back at the end of April, now exactly a month ago, Joe and I attended The National and Arcade Fire show at Starlight Theatre. Starlight is my favorite venue. It is perfection. Anchored by a beautiful outdoor stage with two large turrets on each side, making it look like a big faux medieval castle, then a sweeping slope of green seats with excellent unobstructed views of the sky and the stage, it's not too big, not too small. It's the best venue in Kansas City. Joe went straight to Starlight right after work and got in line, since seating is first come, first serve, and somehow, even though I wasn't there yet and they weren't doing it for anyone else, he was able to secure two wristbands for the orchestra seating area that you had to be present to receive. I suspect he flirted with the ticket agent, and I'm fine with that since it earned us fourth row center seats. Nicely done, dear, flirt away.

Concert night was brisk, but one of those clear comfortable spring evenings that make me long for April to stick around longer than it ever does.  Yes, it's already more than half way through May, so you might be thinking, more than a month ago, "How are you going to remember anything interesting about the show?" But that's the beauty of being a nerd. After the concert and a little bit during, I jotted down some memorable moments and people, the set list, and generally amusing tidbits that I wanted to remember. Plus Joe took some excellent photos and that always helps jog the memory. So let me cobble together the general mayhem, merriment and musical joy of that evening.


The National opened the show. And as Win Butler, the lead singer of Arcade Fire would remind us later, we were damn lucky to have this caliber of opening act. The National are one of my favorite bands. A heady mix of powerful poetic lyrics paired with strong guitar, bass and drums, the signature sound that drew me in from the beginning was the deep, mournful baritone of lead singer Matt Berninger. His voice is mesmerizing. Sad and sexy, sometimes swinging from furious self righteous anger to regretful longing, it fits the lyrics that he writes and melds perfectly with the music provided by the two pairs of brothers who make up the rest of the band.


He's easy on the eyes too, I might add. All lanky strawberry blond scruff in head to toe rumpled black, with a fitted blazer and eyes closed in thought, he is the indie front man personified. And the sixteen year old teenager sitting in front of me, wearing a leopard print fleece and enormous sunglasses (she's in the first photo and arms raised in the last,) agreed with me. She was shrieking and panting and falling all over herself like it was the 1950's and Elvis was shaking his pelvis at her. But instead of a gyrating pelvis, Berninger's style was more befuddled shy, slightly drunk lead singer.  He apparently had some kind of foot injury, joked that he had shot himself on the tour bus the day before, and was self medicating by chugging large red plastic party cups of white wine on stage, stopping between songs to refill, spilling on his shoes, and going through one bottle by himself in three short songs. It didn't effect his performance or voice at all, except to add a hurkey-jerkey dance move by where he didn't put weight on his injured foot and continually leaned in on the microphone for support. Sexy gimpy.


The band played a mix of old and new songs, pulling heavily from the latest album High Violet but throwing in some of my favorites from older albums, including Fake Empire and Mistaken for Strangers. With a vibrant horns section, and guest appearance for a couple of songs from Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire, The National were the best opening act I've ever seen. I would have been perfectly happy if the show had ended right there. But it didn't. The National were good enough on their own, but somehow Arcade Fire came on stage and pushed all memories of The National aside at that moment.


I liked Arcade Fire before this concert. I enjoyed their music and was thrilled when they won the Grammy this year. But I was never a truly devoted fan until this night. I knew vaguely that they were a large 8 person band and that all the members could play multiple instruments kind of like 8 Canadian versions of Prince, but I had no idea of the power and stage presence that they could bring. Their music is transformed when played live. Music that seems quiet and more slowly paced somehow pulsates with energy on stage. While their latest album The Suburbs is a bit more subdued. How did I forget the raw exuberance of Funeral or Neon Bible?


That 8 member band flocks out on stage and commands your attention. Video clips run together on the enormous marquee behind them, The Warriors coming out to play, I mean that literally, a clip from the cult classic The Warriors cut into their video. They are constantly moving, constantly trading instruments between songs, all such talented musicians that at any moment the guitarist might switch to the drums and the drummer to the keyboards, the accordion player to the hurdy-gurdy, seamlessly. Regine Chassagne, wife of lead singer Win Butler, is like a twee 33 year old prom queen up there. When it is her turn to take center stage she hardly needs a spotlight. With her black, fringed finger-less gloves and her sparkly full skirted pale yellow dress, she glides in and engages the audience in a way that no one else on that stage can, even outshining her husband at times. Her lofty, slightly nasal voice is beautiful and eerie, and on songs like Haiti, unstoppable.


Winn Butler leapt into the audience several times during the show, just feet from our seats. He was nearly crushed by the onslaught of giddy teenagers, anxious to touch him, grab his wooly jacket, look him in the eye. He was a gracious good sport through out the night and kept the pacing and energy up for the band as any leader does. At the end of the night for the encore he called everyone in the audience down to the foot of the stage, security stepped aside and the crowd surged towards him. He body surfed briefly through the heaving throng, and when they gently placed him back on the stage, he thanked them with a vibrating rendition of Neighborhood #3, saved for the end, just for us. The energy, the admirable musicality, the variety, the song choices, the evident care and thought put into the stage design, song choices and artistry of the videos, made this easily one of the best shows I've ever seen.


I don't know quite what else to say. Frankly, I just want to sit here and listen to their music. It sweeps me off, off to the angsty suburbs of my childhood, off to cars filled with teenagers looking for escape and salvation, off to empty cathedrals and the hot tumultuous streets of Haiti, off to recollect that hot faced feeling of betrayal, off to a place where music goes beyond the truth of an experience and captures the essence of it instead. Arcade Fire is transporting. The layers of instruments, vocals and near cacophony of melded sound, and often ambiguous lyrics, makes me want to stand outside for hours, swaying and dancing and bouncing with the smiling crowd. We are all in our own heads standing there, in each other's heads, in our pasts and somehow far away at the same time.


All photos by Joe Sands, husband and fabulous seat securer.


margherio said...

Excellent post, almost feel like I was there. Except I wasn't and am still pretty pissed at myself about that...

Kassie said...

Thanks. And we'll make sure to pressure you and Shannon to join us at any future concerts!