The Grammy Award-winning Band Debuts New Sound, New Look during SNL’s Season Premiere


As the clock struck 1 a.m. this past Saturday night, I eagerly awaited the much anticipated reveal of Arcade Fire’s concert special, set to air immediately following the famous weekly sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live.” I turned on the television and soon realized I do not have cable. But I settled for waiting a little longer until the show went up online. In the meantime, I heard only brief descriptions of the mysterious event like: “Bono is in a mask fighting with Ben Stiller” and “Zach Galifianakis is floating in space.” Needless to say, my head was a whirlwind of expectation.
Earlier this month, Arcade Fire released their first single, the title track, from their upcoming album Reflektor. The seven minute black-and-white video seemed to generate mixed emotions. Long time followers of the band found themselves surprised by the upbeat song, something not prevalent in their earlier indie-rock anthems “Wake Up” and “Rebellion,” tunes that are more cryable than danceable.  To them I say: listen to the track again. It is certain that this is still an Arcade Fire born-and-bred song, no matter how many new sounds or talented people they incorporate. Change is good. Dance is good. And LCD Soundsystem front man James Murphy, who co-produced the album, is good, too.
Fast-forward to this past Saturday night: the band performed “Reflektor” and debuted “Afterlife” on SNL’s 39th season premiere. They took the stage in stylish black and gold garments, accompanied by the happiest bongo players I have ever seen. From the start, Arcade Fire commanded the stage as colored lights shone behind them and front-man Win Butler uncharacteristically danced on stage while his wife, the band’s front-woman Regine Chassagne trapped herself in a mirrored box during the breakdown of the song. All right, you’ve caught my attention.
For “Afterlife,” another danceable, high-energy sing-a-long, the band adorned white suits bedecked in sparkles. Win’s face glistened under a black banded mask drawn across his piercing eyes as he repeatedly sang, “Can we work it out?”  The new tailor-made outfits reflected the direction of the album. The band has not only taken the time to reinvent their music, but also their stage presence — a detail that can easily be overlooked with any group boasting more than ten members.
Cut to the special, the grand finale, the best promotion for a new album that I have ever seen: Appropriately titled, “Here Comes the Night Time,” the Roman Coppola-directed 25 minute film was recorded “Live from the Salsatheque,” an underground disco rock club in Montreal, Canada, the band’s hometown. Shots showed the neon-clad, pumped up crowd dancing the night away as AF premiered three more songs from Reflektor. The first was “Here Comes the Night Time,” an island-influenced upbeat medley that ends in a hardcore rock solo.
The whole time I was transfixed, filled with laughter and confusion as the gaps between performances were filled with celebrity cameos and fake TV sitcom ads. The most memorable skit had to be Michael Cera as a Spanish-speaking bartender who talks shit about the band between songs. Another great cameo featured Zach Galifianakis floating in space, eating cheese puffs, while criticizing the band’s steadily increasing size. “I went to one of your first shows. There were more people on stage than there were in the audience. You don’t need three drummers!” he shouted from the outskirts of Earth’s hemisphere. Personally, seeing new members join the band throughout the years has always been a comfort. It means if I am ever lucky enough to meet them, I just might be asked to come play the bongos.
The film continued with the songs “We Exist” and “Normal People.” The latter seemed closest to the band’s original sound. I can see the rock-heavy song quickly becoming an anthem for a dizzy generation of non-conformists. However, the best part for me was their truncated rendition of “Wake Up,” reinvented as the kind of slow-dance track you might hear during prom.
My feelings after the tenth re-watch are still the same. I feel refreshed seeing such an influential band have fun and make fun of themselves while playing some of the best songs I have heard all year. It amazes me how a band so highly regarded manages to keep moving up and forward. If the rest of their album, out Oct. 28, reflects some of their performances so far, I have no doubt that Reflektor will be the album of the year.
This article appeared on page 8 of Thursday October 3, 2013′s print edition of The Daily Nexus.