Live Review: Arcade Fire’s Brooklyn Masquerade Party

So, you’ve conquered the world. What now?

This is not exactly a typical quandary in which most humble Canadian indie-bands find themselves. In 2010, the calculated new-media marketing blitz behind The Suburbs, which combined technological innovation and fan interaction with melancholic anthems of wasted youth, generated a buzzworthy foundation to the empire Arcade Fire would inevitably build.

Skip ahead one year. After completing a headlining arena tour, including a sold out Madison Square Gardens set and a collaboration with The Creators Project at Coachella which went on to become a moment of festival folklore, the same band that only your hippest friends were keen to a few short years before was basking in the grandeur of their ‘Record of the Year’ prize. The world watched them perform via GoPro cameras strapped to the helmets of BMXers at the Grammy’s leading to a popular Tumblr blog called ‘Who Is Arcade Fire?’

The Suburbs represented the apex of Arcade Fire’s metamorphosis. With the impending release of their 4th LP Reflektor looming and the wheels of another touring cycle in motion, it appears Arcade Fire are not looking over the edge, but instead have constructed a fortified outpost atop this mountain that they have no intentions of relinquishing.

With another cycle comes a new marketing campaign which has again relied on interactive and cryptic videos, but also on mysterious graffiti popping up in cities throughout North America and a brief series of clandestine masquerade dance parties in Montreal, Brooklyn and Miami headlined by a little-known band called The Reflektors.

The Reflektors, naturally, demand a strict dress code of either formal attire or costumes at their shows.

For the second time in two nights, a former Bushwick industrial warehouse, hastily converted into a makeshift concert spot, would draw a mix of socialites and superfans dressed in attire that was a mixing bowl of disco-chique, debonair formalwear, bargain-bin-Halloween snags and a touch of Dia de los Muertos. They queued across four blocks of gentrified three-story buildings on Bourbon St…err, I mean Meserole St. amidst stickers and street art, bohemians and buskers, and beneath an overcast spitting sky obscuring the rousing full-moon above and threatening to bring ruin to the many extravagantly painted faces.

Halloween had evidently arrived ten days early.

Between the array of suits, many dashing black, but many more plaided and eccentric, were costumes ranging from budget get-ups, to full body suits, to one fellow in a shimmering gold suit and matching blonde mullet. Face painters scoured the lines looking for eager canvasses to transform.

On one end of the costume price spectrum were last minute plague-doctor masks and other masqueraders as well as liquor swigging bros who borrowed Dad’s tie to cover the ‘formal’ requirement. On the other end were meticulous ensembles, some store-bought and banal, others homemade. Among them were: pandas, cowboys, astronauts, an alligator, Jesus, a giant banana, sexy nurses, Darth Vader and a horrifying ‘It the Clown’, complete with prosthetic chin.

Some tickets for this pair of Brooklyn shows were advertised on Stubhub for the unfathomable price of $2000 per, but most people I spoke with inside snagged theirs for $150-$200.

Fortunately, the rain relented as members of The Reflektors were dropped off in front of the venue wearing enlarged Papier Mâché heads. Their handlers worked as guides as they navigated the lines and posed for pictures in giant masks without eyeholes.

The line finally began to move.

We entered the dingy venue wondering what chicanery would be on the menu for the evening. The audience was pranked at Friday’s show when a curtain was pulled unveiling a second stage causing a furious mass migration. Such a trick would be difficult to pull off twice.

Oddly shaped reflecting orbs hung from a poorly ventilated wooden patchwork above. The corners were dark brick and curtains. The few lights inside were strewn from disco balls over the dance floor where one giant headed member of The Reflektors boogied with anybody in near proximity. The shoulder-to-shoulder crowds (somebody must have bribed a Fire Marshall) and dank surroundings gave off an underground rave party vibe which was offset by $8 beers.

At 9:40PM, a familiar face edged through the curtains. James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem and producer of Reflektor) leered through a leopard mask; his scruffy grey beard poking through. He introduced “The Reflektors” to a screaming audience before retreating with haste.

The black curtains whipped open as a blinding flash of purple and white light burst through. My eyes began to adjust as dark silhouettes began to visually texturize to the sounds of ‘Reflektor’ (quickly dispelling of even the faintest hope of a Bowie appearance). A meshwork of triangular glass shards littered the stage from backdrop to bongos.

Frontman Win Butler, dressed in a golden blazer, towered over the crowd while stepping on the stage monitors, his head not far from hitting the planked ceiling.

There was a wall of band (ten of them in all) billowing over the edge of the small stage.

“Thank you very much for coming out!” Butler said.  “These are some of the funnest shows we’ve ever done. We’re called the Reflektors.” With this, they segued into another new track called ‘Flashbulb Eye’s’. The sounds of steel drums and bongos emanating from stage right, where two Haitian percussionists were situated, bathed this song in a laid-back Caribbean vibe as strobes matched their movements.

This was followed by an infectious, bassy groove, channeling 70’s disco and complimented by sharp rhythmic guitar. This was ‘We Exist’. The tight, already heavily sweating crowd began to spread out ever-so-slightly to generate the necessary dancing space for this number. Shoulders were swaying to the indelible sounds as several voices on stage belted out the chorus “Down on your knees, beggin us please, prayin’ that we don’t exist”.

Dark blue/purple light showered the band as a punky intro gave way to the dynamic “Joan Of Arc”. Six members of The Reflektors stood at the precipice bellowing “tell the boys I’ll follow you”. This show was thrown together quickly, but this performance was not.

A silly lounge rendering of ‘Wake Up’ served as the intro to ‘Normal Person’, a song which conjures up memories of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Run Through The Jungle’ before switching gears and mutating into a pounding garage rocker, led by Richard Reed Parry’s shrieking guitar. People were jumping up-and-down in unison, many singing along to a new song they’ve somehow already committed to memory.

“We were nervous to play CMJ”, Butler said, before playfully declaring “This is a cover song by a band called Arcade Fire”. He threw lead vocals over to his wife Regine Chassange. She played with multicolored tassels and mimed throughout the Arcade Fire’s synth-heavy ‘Sprawl II’.

Next was ‘Supersymmetry’, which built slowly for nearly two minutes before a steady kick drum entered the mix to drive the remainder of the track, which then seemed to end abruptly before reaching the climax you thought you could feel coming.

The lights once again dimmed.

Enter deep bass and a sinister descending guitar riff. Very Depeche Mode – Body Of Truth. Ambient, unintelligible vocals contributed to the growing dark cacophony, until it would break temporarily with the groupshout of “wait until it’s over”. Brilliant.

As if purging their darkside, they pushed forward with the upbeat ‘Afterlife’ as the disco ball once again illuminated patches of the devoted audience.

“We are kind of running out of time, so if you are looking to unbutton that top button you better do it now,” teased Butler.

“2! 3! 4!”

A jumping dance party erupted as they played Arcade Fire’s ‘Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)’, led by the powerfully unsettling violin work of Sarah Neufeld and evoking the nights the most tremendous audience response.

Then the Caribbean percussion returned as a pounding lead-in to ‘Here Comes The Night Time’, which was augmented once more by soothing steel drums and a xylophone chorus melody. Again, most everybody was either costumed or suited. At this point many of us were soaked all the way through inside this non-ventilated pressure cooker, which only intensified when Butler pounced into the crowd.

The band departed from the stage.

But in lieu of any shenanigans, we were instead treated to an encore.

Butler took note of evaporated sweat dripping from the metal pipes just over his head, and The Reflektors treated us to ‘Haiti’ before heading off.

Instead of being herded out like cattle (as is commonplace at most shows), the lights stayed dark, the disco tunes bumped and many of us clung to the joy of it all for well over an hour, at which time the brothers Butler made their way out to meet with fans.

For those of us lucky enough to be at them, this very limited run of Reflektors gigs are like the renowned Arcade Fire club shows that most of us never got to see, and may never have the opportunity to see again.

From what I’ve gathered tonight, it sounds as though Reflektor has the potential to be even more intrepid, unifying, prolific and varied then its predecessors. I wouldn’t call it a re-invention but instead a marvelous progression.

Cheers to The Reflektors or the Arcade Fire (who look poised to conquer the world once more) for making rock fun and mysterious again.



Photos: Rory Biller