Arcade Fire owned NBC’s Saturday night.
The rock band took to the season premiere of “Saturday Night Live” for the live debut (outside secret shows) of its newest single, “Reflektor,” as well as the full debut of “Afterlife” — both songs from the group’s upcoming fourth album.
Win, Regine and co. stepped onstage shortly after midnight, launching into the new album’s formidable first single. The husband-wife combo traded lead vocals, alternating languages in the process. Butler and Chassagne took center stage, the former sans the guitar he usually plays live, taking on an instrument-less frontman status for the majority of both songs. Of course there’s the weirdness that comes with an Arcade Fire performance, continuing the trend from the band’s “Reflektor” music video. In this edition, Chassagne found herself off the stage during a break in the action, emerging in a cage-like structure made of glass.
Later, the band debuted “Afterlife,” another cut from “Reflektor” (in stores Oct. 29). The song is ebullient, with a saccharine chorus and a New Order feel, thanks no doubt to James Murphy’s part as producer on the album. In a lead-in to the band’s half-hour concert special later in the evening, frontman Butler was decked out in black raccoon-esque makeup over his eyes, perhaps a subtle nod to Michael Stipe.
Prior to the band’s two-song set on “SNL,” the Canadians appeared in a sketch that also served to help acquaint viewers with the new castmembers of the show. In “New Cast Member or Arcade Fire,” host Tina Fey had to choose which of the two people before her was a member of the band and which was a new member of the show. Butler was paired with Mike O’Brien, both of whom were required to do their best Robert DeNiro impressions. Meanwhile, Chassagne popped up alongside Noel Wells, forced to hold “old-timey instruments” to assist Fey in her choice.
But after the cast said their goodbyes for the night, the indie rock royalty was just getting warmed up. A Win-led conga line helped segue into “Here Comes the Night Time.” Part-performance and part-cameo-fest, the set featured three new songs from “Reflektor,” along with visits from several high profile folks, presumably fans of the band.
Performing from the glitzy Salsatheque in Montreal, Arcade Fire went all-out ’70s during the set, matching the disco aesthetic Murphy crafted in LCD Soundsystem. “Here Comes the Night Time” is another longer tune out of “Reflektor,” a slower dirth of a song at first that breaks into rapidfire drums and guitar before slowing yet again, pulsating synths abounding.
The other two songs performed, “We Exist” and “Normal Person,” fit snugly into the “Reflektor” feel set forth thus far. The former has a synthline almost remniscent of “Billie Jean,” while the latter asks the question, “I think I’m cool enough, but am I cruel enough?” before breaking into a jarring cacophony of instrumentation.
Throughout, a number of celebrity guests make appearances ranging from brief to always there, the latter the case of Rainn Wilson, who’s all over “Normal Person.” Michael Cera plays the bartender at Salsatheque, referring to Arcade Fire as “tiny bananas” compared to, say, Michael Buble. Here’s Bill Hader and Zach Galifianakis, playing astronauts listening to the concert from space. There’s Ben Stiller and Bono, kicked off the stage before the performance after sneaking on wearing the giant heads of the “Reflektor” video. James Franco? Aziz Ansari? Yep.
On the whole, the set was theatric as much as it was revelatory. The band, flanked by a number of supporting musicians that brought its ranks to 11, underwent a number of wardrobe changes, from clothing remniscent of the band’s “SNL” performance to much more casual fare, with Butler rocking a Nirvana tee on “Normal Person.”
By performance’s end, the countdown officially began for “Reflektor,” which drops in exactly one month.