At a full moon masquerade last night in Brooklyn (October 18), Arcade Fire arrived like a phantom of its own opera, materializing when fans least expected it from behind a largely overlooked black curtain set up against the far west wall of a cavernous venue.
It was just one of many times the band defied expectations at the semi-secret, instantly sold-out show, which drew a couple thousand golden-ticket holders to an unassuming re-purposed warehouse in the half-gentrified artist haven of Bushwick. Attendees to the event were instructed to wear either formal attire or a festive costume and nearly all complied, with wolves, sailors, she-devils and at least one banana-man streaming into the red brick building from an otherwise desolate street. The interior had been decked out with multi-colored string lighting, palm fronds, disco balls and hanging mirrored pyramids, giving it the other-worldly feel of a tropical night bazaar or ‘70s disco prom.
Arcade Fire's dramatic reveal was made possible by a decoy stage set up at the front of the venue, and it came at the expense of the band's most ardent fans, many of whom were caught flat-footed after waiting in the wrong position for upwards of two hours. If there were any hard feelings over the stunt, though, they seemed to be set aside after the first chords of "Reflektor," the James Murphy-produced lead single from the indie rock royalty's forthcoming album of the same name. Robots, construction workers and Fraggles alike danced to the rapturous post-disco, sweating through makeup and synthetic fabric in gleeful anonymity.
In a too-brief set that pulled largely from the new album, the mercurial Canadian collective performed like a band possessed, both figuratively and literally. Frontman Win Butler introduced the band (with help from an endearingly sedate Murphy) as "The Reflektors," a fictional group that has popped up in promotional materials for "Reflektor" and that he said had "only ever played for a couple hundred people." The new identity served to put distance between the band and its previous incarnations, a reasonable aim in light of the vivid and genre-agnostic new direction taken on its fourth full-length.
Only two songs from the pre-"Reflektor" era, "Sprawl II" and "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)," were performed at the show, and Butler introduced them as "covers" of songs by "a Montreal band called Arcade Fire." Highlights from the new material included "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)" and "Afterlife," both of which felt appropriately momentous in the hollowed-out facility.
Toward the end of "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)," Butler jumped off the stage and burrowed his way, head down like a football player on a drive, through the crowd and out a side exit. The rest of the band gave a few tired waves and left the stage abruptly. The damp, still buzzing audience— expecting an encore, perhaps including more songs from the band's wealthy back catalog— stayed in place, staring at the stage intently for approximately 20 minutes.
Finally Butler appeared again, having traded a flashy white suit for a Ramones t-shirt, and told the crowd that the show was over. He made some comments about the smell of B.O. and, after some light jeering in response to the news that there would be no encore, chastised the room for "making this awkward by making me have to explain this to you." Then he dropped the microphone and stalked back behind the black curtain.
The spell broke, masks fell and a horde of black, white and sequins made the long walk back to the train.