September 25, 2007

The Fire this time: Arcade Fire operates somewhere ‘between the Click of the Light and the Start of the Dream’

Arcade Fire: Photo by Davida Nemeroff Members of the Arcade Fire pause for a moment of self-reflection. “We’re friends first,” says Regine Chassagne.Hands-down, this is the concert of the season. Never mind, if you can, the accomplishments of Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem — there are only 11 U.S. shows on this tour and Louisville gets one. Outdoors, yet, which should make for a unique spectacle for two acts that are simultaneously restless and ambitious in their musical choices.There are wild contrasts between the two acts. Arcade Fire has a virtual community of members working around a married couple who were making very different types of music just a few years ago when they met. LCD Soundsystem, meanwhile, sometimes has a single individual (James Murphy) playing and singing entire tracks, with his only confirmed allegiance to the record label’s house producer (Tim Goldsworthy).Arcade Fire seem to know a dozen ways to build sturdy anthems, then have the participants add in various arrangement curveballs to keep things interesting. With Murphy’s group, the beat might barely change on tracks that are ready-made for a nightclub — except that the shifts in sound, and all the lyrics have to be watched carefully, as there are exquisite, often personal depths to the bright sonic kaleidoscope.Each of these bands achieved a breakthrough with its first full-length in the middle of the decade, and each is now promoting acclaimed second albums. For Arcade Fire, the Canadian collective followed up the groundbreaking Funeral with Neon Bible. It includes a huge sound with church organ and orchestra (courtesy of some recording in Budapest), which will be reinvented by 10 multi-instrumentalists.As of the first two songs of Funeral, group co-founder and singer Win Butler channeled the Davids — Bowie and Byrne, respectively — at the apogee of their innovative styles. (Small wonder that both of those avant garde-pop icons have become champions for Arcade Fire.) And the album kept going into marvelous unheard corners of rock fused with a variety of cultural artifacts — some in the compositions, others played to form the often odd arrangements. Win Butler’s wife, Regine Chassagne, brings her Haitian heritage into one track that is only the most direct of several that see the condition of families, communities and nations through a prism of dark challenges.The feelings of the individuals who face such pressures provide the core of what this band delivers. The feelings are writ large — almost operatically. This is no attempt at making opera from folk and rock instrumentation, but it realizes a sweeping, mature vision of the meeting of emotion and hard-hitting pop music that emo and screamo acts only see in their dreams.James Murphy: Photo by Ruvan Wijesooriya Wake-up call: James Murphy, of LCD Soundsystem, shows off his coif.Arcade Fire has also developed a reputation for uniformly impeccable commitment and intensity when its many members play a live show. That’s a damned good thing, given the demands of songs like “No Cars Go” (an absolute propulsive hurtle, carrying tons of orchestration and vocals en masse) and “Wake Up” (balancing Keith Richards riffing, contemplative strings, Ian Hunter-style hardened weariness and a light, music-hall bridge). The big show is at Waterfront Park (129 E. River Road) on Wednesday, Oct. 3. It starts at 7:30 p.m. and general admission tickets are $36.LEO managed to find a few moments with Chassagne. She’ll be the lead singer on some of the songs, and through the night, she will also play accordion, hurdy-gurdy, keyboards and drums. Of the 10 musicians you’ll see, she says, “Everyone can play a lot of instruments … even more than they play onstage.”But the smiling fates of routing that bring Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem to Louisville (whatever other reasons may be behind our good fortune in getting this show, we’re told it is also convenient to the rest of their tour itinerary) also dictate there’s a limit to how many instruments can get packed aboard a plane. (See James Murphy’s sidebar about how much stuff this concert lineup has to haul around). The alignment between the bands seemed a good starting point to begin listening to the rapid-fire birdsong tones of conversation from Quebecois Chassagne.LEO: How did you first get together with James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem? Do you see the musical styles of your bands as compatible?Régine Chassagne: Yeah. We met them at festivals, and we started talking backstage. They have a lot of different influences, but they make it their own. They make real songs, which is always what I like.LEO: Do any of the members of the two bands show up during one another’s sets?RC: I would be into that. We’re just on our second show together right now, and both of our bands have a lot of stuff going on … we use the most time we can with the sound checks. Eventually, I think, it’d be fun to do a little collaboration of some kind.LEO: You were in jazz voice studies when you first met your husband. Do you ever want to return to jazz, or styles closer aligned to it? Who’s your favorite jazz vocalist?RC: My favorite jazz vocalist is Billie Holiday. Her singing is not the most … acrobatic, but I think it’s the most soulful. I don’t know if I would do regular jazz gigs, because I’ve done that a lot. But I would definitely be into experimenting with the knowledge of jazz and take it to a different milieu. I use it for composition for the songs that we James Murphy: Photo by Ruvan Wijesooriya Wake-up call: James Murphy, of LCD Soundsystem, shows off his coif. do, although it’s not super-obvious.LEO: There’s a lot of facing up to fears in the songs of both albums … that includes a lot of suggestions of apocalypse. Are you or Win into science fiction or fantasy literature or movies?RC: Yes, but not particularly. Not more than any other kind of literature. Life is already crazy, you know? There’s a lot to take out of real stories, already. To write a song, I always start from something we really know and have experienced and really, really understand … and then you can extrapolate and start to imagine things and create art. But for me, it always has to be somewhere really solid … an emotion or something that you feel is really real. And then after that, you can start going into fantasy.LEO: What’s the writing and arranging process for the band? Is it set right away who’ll be singing which parts? I’m not sure I can imagine Win singing “In the Backseat,” but maybe … do you try out such things?RC: We’re always trying to make sounds serve the music and what the song is trying to express. Obviously, Win and I are always together, so often we come up with the basic parts — like the skeleton of the song. And we work on it until we feel it’s really solid. Then we play it for the other guys, and they really help to flesh it out and bring the colors — the different tones and textures that basically paint the picture of the song.LEO: Does being married to one of your band mates — but having lots of others come by when it’s time to record something you two have written — ever get uncomfortable?  RC: Everyone in the band, we’re friends first, and we also happen to be musicians. Win is my husband, and Will (Butler, who plays bass and various percussion) is Win’s brother, so, of course, they were brothers first. So, you know, there’s a real connection between everyone in the first place, which helps for writing — because it’s not like it’s a bunch of hired dudes.LEO: What’s next for the band after this tour? Is anyone contemplating other/side-projects?RC: Not me! After we’re done, we’re going to have a real life. Backstage life is not super-inspiring. I find it kind of boring after a while.LEO: What would be your idea of a good vacation after this tour?RC: Silence! Because then, I can think. Contact the writer at tlx@aol.com