The first time I ever saw Arcade Fire, way back in 2005, they were already huge in their own way. It wasn’t a big room, but they crammed a stadium’s worth of ambition, pomp and circumstances into Cat’s Cradle nightclub with an overwhelming performance.
Not surprisingly, they had no trouble at all projecting to the outer reaches of Red Hat Amphitheater Thursday night, with a fantastic and life-affirming two-hour show.
Arcade Fire is sort of a millennial chorus come to life, a big sing-along waiting to happen, and that started up on the very first song. “Everything Now” began with the band out in the seats, entering through the crowd on their way to the stage as everybody started singing.
From there, it was pretty much one emotional crescendo after another, all in a key of E (as in Epic). The band’s current lineup is nine-strong, with Win Butler and Regine Chassagne as ringleaders, and they brought along a dizzying range of instrumentation.
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Along with the standard guitar-bass-drums-keyboards, various songs also featured violin, flute, saxophone, keytar, synthesizers, various percussive devices — including cowbell, bongos, glockenspiel and bottles with spoon — standup bass, accordion and a couple of contraptions I could not identify.
Arcade Fire’s members are all quite serious, and yet they always look like they’re having a great time. Everybody played pretty much everything, changing instruments while moving front to back, back to front and even beyond the stage. More than once, you’d look up and realize that one of them had ventured out into the crowd and was playing away nearby.
While Arcade Fire is from Montreal, the band does have some history in the Triangle, having started out recording for the local label Merge Records (and even winning the label its first Grammy Award, album of the year for 2010’s “The Suburbs”). That was acknowledged.
“Just want to give a shout-out to everybody at Merge,” Butler said between songs early on. “We’re proud to be part of the family, and we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without them. I’m pretty sure this next one was on the very first CD-R we sent them.”
That was the introduction for “Old Flame,” which was quite good. But the peak was about an hour into the show, a stretch that included “Keep the Car Running,” “Neighborhood #1,” “The Suburbs” and “Ready to Start” — hit after delirious hit, with ample audience vocals.
The visuals were quite impressive, too, with high-concept imagery and projection of lyrics on the video screens. Best of all was a giant disco ball that shot a thousand points of light onto the venue’s nearby shimmer wall during “Reflektor.”
The finale was, of course, “Wake Up,” and the evening ended as it began: with everybody in the place singing.