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Coachella 2011. Day 2

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Arcade Fire Turn Coachella 2011 Crowd Into Art With Balloon Spectactle
By Charley Rogulewski for spinner
Photo by Brian Moghadam

Midway through Arcade Fire’s headlining Saturday night (April 16) set at Coachella 2011, a crane hoisted a mysterious, giant black box — about the size of a truck trailer — atop of the main stage ceiling while the indie-rockers-turned-Grammy-winners performed below it. But, before revealing its contents, read this review first to find out what exactly was inside the box.

The past nine years have played out like a movie for Arcade Fire. It started when Pitchfork gave their ‘Funeral’ debut a 9.7 review, igniting a buzz that got David Bowie’s attention, landed them on a stage with Bruce Springsteen and most recently procured a Grammy, Juno and two Brit Awards for their third studio album, ‘The Suburbs,’ released last August.

Given their track record, beginning their third-ever Coachella set beneath a movie marquee that read “Coming Soon : Arcade Fire,” seemed like the right metaphor. Signaling that the show was about to start, a screen beneath the marquee began to show trailers for old school movies like ‘Over the Edge,’ ‘The Warriors’ and a clip from ‘Camelot,’ where Vanessa Redgrave sings about the ‘Lusty Month of May.’ When the preview was over, Arcade Fire lit up the stage with their first tune and nod to the same month, ‘Month of May,’ playing their instruments with what looked like a dangerous appetite for destruction. Not even halfway through the punk-rock number and it was apparent that the people in the audience were about to witness one of the best Arcade Fire concerts the band has ever played in their nine years.

“If you told me in 2002, that we’d be headlining Coachella with Animal Collective playing before us, I would have told you, you were full of shit,” frontman Win Butler told the crowd, mentioning the experimental outfit that played before them.

Everything from the visuals to the music was polished. Arcade Fire didn’t seem like they were hopping on a stage and just performing an ordinary concert; they were ready to put on a show and the female members had the glittery outfits to prove it. For the first part of their two-hour set, Arcade Fire intertwined songs off all three of their albums. The whispery purger ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ was followed by the fist pumping ‘Hey!’ choruses of ‘No Cars Go,’ then by the ocean-rolling nod to ‘Haiti,’ the introspective lyrics of ‘City With No Children,’ the falsetto, piano ballad ‘The Suburbs,’ the begging for forgiveness track ‘Crown of Love’ and spidery-strings of ‘Rococo’-coco — and only once were tracks from the same album played back to back.

“One of these years I want to come here without actually playing, maybe next year?” Butler, who turned 31 on Saturday, thought aloud looking at the glowing ferris wheel (he mistakenly called a merry-go-round) and art displays poking up in the distance. The band plowed through the organ-heavy ‘Intervention’ and high-pitched ‘Neighborhood #2 (Laika)’ before Butler would reveal they were just warming up.

“That was the whole peaceful thoughtful portion of the set, now let’s do something!” Now, it should probably be noted from here on in that when Win Butler says “let’s do something,” that something is going to be awesome. That big black box atop of the stage that was mentioned earlier had been all but forgotten because of the rock ‘n’ roll show going on beneath it.

As the opening guitar chords of the set closer ‘Wake Up’ began with almost every person automatically throwing their arms up into the sky while singing the “ahhahh” harmonies, a waterfall of giant white balloons poured out. Now, yeah, we’ve all seen balloons at rock shows before, but these weren’t ordinary balloons. With the help of the Creators Project, who took initiative to beef up the visual performance element at Coachella this year, the balloons changed from one fluorescent color to the next, sometimes even in sync. The overall effect, when looked upon from above, made the audience look like another one of Coachella’s glow-in-the-dark art installations.

With the balloons bouncing around, Arcade Fire came back and followed up with a four-song encore, eventually finishing the evening with ‘Sprawl II.’

“Coachella was the first real festival we ever played,” Butler told the crowd. “We don’t take it for granted even for a second.” And judging by the caliber of the set, it was obvious Butler wasn’t lying.

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