5:35 p.m. Friday, May 6, Acura Stage
On June 11, 2004, the words "Arcade Fire" meant little to anyone without a pocketful of quarters. Funeral, the band's combustible Merge Records debut, was more than three months from catching flame. The majority of Crescent City concertgoers who went that night to the French Quarter's newest music venue, the month-old One Eyed Jacks, did so to see another Canadian act, the now-extinct headliner Unicorns. Anyone else who should have cared was six blocks away at the House of Blues, for the not-yet Garden State-d Shins. Seven years later, the Montreal-based Arcade Fire would conquer the Grammys, rain glowing beach balls down on thousands at California's Coachella Music Festival and claim a prominent performance slot at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
It's more than a little amusing to picture today's Arcade Fire playing the early slot in front of a few dozen clock-watchers on Toulouse Street. Just seven months after its first visit here, the band returned to much greater fanfare, selling out the House of Blues' main stage in January 2005 after Funeral's mass reception made its original destination, the Parish, into an unused waiting room. Neon Bible, its solemn, Springsteenish 2007 tome, elevated Arcade Fire from Internet sensation to U2-in-training. And everyone knows what happened in 2010: lights, cameras, traction.
When the band's name was called in February by Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand as the Grammy winner for Album of the Year, spouses/singers Win Butler and Regine Chassagne were still gasping for air. They had finished performing "Month of May," The Suburbs' Act 2 aggressor, just moments before. "2009, 2010, want to make a record how I felt then," Butler barked, engulfed by a crisscrossing phalanx of camera-mounted BMX bikers. More than a new-testament Neon Bible, the 16-song suite is a spiritual sequel to Funeral: the warm, inclusive production; the recurring motifs of parents and children, neighborhoods and friends; the doubling-back track list sequenced for specific emotional response. "In the suburbs, I/ I learned to drive," Butler opens, picking up where piercing Funeral closer "In the Backseat" left off ("I've been learning to drive/ My whole life"). Its dizzying finish — Butler's staccato-piano prickler "We Used to Wait," Chassagne's shimmering, Debbie Harry-indebted "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," a brief Bell Orchestral reprisal — lingers long after the spinning stops.