We’re used to Arcade Fire being gigantic now. Years past the moment where the band started to attain the kind of magnitude their music always sought and was built for, they’re talked about as one of the only major rock bands of their generation to attain that arena-headlining, mainstream-adjacent status. And if you’ve seen the band at all during this stretch of time, you know that they’re one of the best live acts going right now, that there’s a unique power that comes with festival sets where you have thousands of people singing along to “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Wake Up.”
Even with their penchant for surprise shows, it’s a rare chance to see Arcade Fire bottle all that back up for a tiny club gig like they did last night. Ahead of their headlining set at Lollapalooza tonight, they played the Chicago venue the Metro, which can only hold about 1,100 people and, thanks to a sorta circular layout, feels even smaller than that number would suggest. Taking the stage roughly around 11 and playing until 12:45AM, the band ran through new Everything Now material alongside old favorites, all the while performing with the same grandeur as they bring to much bigger stages, resulting in a show that was intimate but still felt huge.
The setting allowed the band to play fast and loose with their usual setlist conventions. After opening with “Everything Now,” they jumped right into “Here Comes The Night Time,” usually a song saved for later in the set or in the encore. “Rebellion” neither opened nor closed, but hung out six songs in. They, somewhat surprisingly, did not play “Reflektor.” Starting with the new songs and continuing with well-chosen old stuff, the overall vibe was that of an Arcade Fire dance party, fitting for the show’s late time slot.
About that new material — some of it already feels as much of a core element for an Arcade Fire show as older stuff, Everything Now’s title track occupying as crucial a spot as “Afterlife.” “Electric Blue,” the gorgeous synth-pop reverie and Régine Chassagne’s lead vocal turn on the new album, was one of the highlights, and “Creature Comfort” — situated at the end between “Afterlife” and “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” — got a super-sized treatment to its already infectious groove. Some of the other new songs didn’t quite transcend the weaknesses of their studio versions, like the quirky “Chemistry” or the Diet Coke Nick Cave of “Good God Damn.” This was one of the first shows Arcade Fire’s played in the Everything Now era, so chances are they’re still sorting out some of the new material and where it will fit, but hopefully they soon make room for Everything Now highlights like “Put Your Money On Me” and “We Don’t Deserve Love.”
As far as older material goes, the band mostly stuck to the tried and true favorites, barreling through “No Cars Go” and “Ready To Start,” and bringing back the still-exhilarating “Keep The Car Running” for the first time in a bit. You know what you’re getting with this stuff — the specific alchemy of “Power Out” live is second nature for the band by now — but seeing these songs that have grown so universal and ubiquitous over years and years compressed back into a club setting gave them a whole different impact. It’s one thing to hear a field full of people singing as loud as they can along with the refrains in “Wake Up.” It’s a different thing to hear the same thing in a small room and have it sound as if it’s thousands of people in a field. The power of the song felt like almost too much, like walls this confined were never supposed to contain it.
The band had time to sneak in one surprise, too — after they left the stage for “Wake Up,” it seemed like the show would be over. But they returned once more and played a cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games,” with Win Butler including snippets of “Karma Police” and “Oh! You Pretty Things” before tagging the whole thing with an elegiac reinterpretation of the big “Wake Up” refrain. It all held together beautifully, both as a mini-tour through Arcade Fire touchstones and as a dramatic conclusion to a show loaded with high drama.
It was a special moment. This band is adept at those. Whatever you think of Everything Now one way or another, many of its songs already sound great alongside well-established old tracks, and this band seriously knows what they’re doing onstage. Whether they’re out where they belong, headlining festivals and playing arenas, or occasionally stepping it back down and calling back to the old club gigs, Arcade Fire gigs are transformative, again and again. You should see them wherever you have a chance to.