ACL: Arcade Fire, Big As The Great Outdoors
Bud Light Stage, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Zilker Park
September 18, 2011
Sunday night in a serene Zilker Park, Arcade Fire made an appropriately historic closer for the Austin City Limits Music Festival's 10th anniversary. Although Stevie Wonder's seniority won him the lead spot on this year's lineup card - as well it should have - the Montreal crew with the two transplanted Texans is the first band formed in the 21st century to ascend to the pinnacle of having ACL entirely to itself.
That also means Arcade Fire is the first ACL closer that has the Internet to thank for its popularity rather than widespread radio play, but since their earliest days have delivered the live goods to back up all the blog buzz. (So have the Walkmen, one of Rocks Off's other Sunday favorites alongside Ryan Bingham and Manu Chao.) Each album has risen Arcade Fire a notch or two higher in ACL's pecking order, from Funeral-marching Wilco table-setters in '05 to Neon Bible-thumping Friday-night '07 closers to Sunday stand-alones preaching the gospel of The Suburbs.
They're grateful, too. "We feel like this is our hometown show in the States," Win Butler told the thousands upon thousands spread out before the Bud Light Stage after opener "Ready To Start."
Hmmm. That sounded suspiciously like what he told The Woodlands crowd at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion back in May ("Good evening, The Woodlands. It's good to be home"), but then again, so did the set list. Slide "Wake Up" to the middle, where its chorale of vocals made a majestic partner to the politically barbed, pipe-organ-fueled "Intervention" - Butler: "We wrote this song the last time the governor of Texas was running for president" - and "Rebellion (Lies)" to the encore.
That's about it besides a couple of deletions for time's sake. We could hear that relentless bass pulse of "Rebellion" all the way back by the Zilker gates, too.
Almost all of Arcade Fire's songs are made for the great outdoors. The "Neighborhood" trilogy of Funeral's "Laika," "Power Out" and "Tunnels" may have been born in the cramped, dank basements and rehearsal spaces of Montreal, but they blossomed into full-grown festival anthems Sunday night. No roof could hope to contain the teeth-spitting punk venting of "Month of May" or the calyso-tinged sea breeze of "Haiti," one of Regine Chassagne's memorable contributions.
The other was Sunday's actual closer "Sprawl 2 (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," which as our colleague Mr. Hlavaty has also pointed out, may be the best Blondie song Deborah Harry never touched. We heard it well on our way down Barton Springs Road, and it sounded wonderful - that's how far, and how well, Arcade Fire's songs carry.