Win Butler leads Arcade Fire in a performance at The Anthem on Oct. 28, 2022. (Photo by Casey Vock)
For those who’ve reached the highest levels of success as a recording and touring artist, there comes with the territory a lot of attention, both for better and worse, and sometimes rightly so.
One such band that’s recently made headlines in an especially unfavorable manner, Arcade Fire — the award-winning alternative rock and baroque pop group from Montreal — sees one of its founders, lead vocalist and main songwriter Win Butler, at the center of unsettling allegations of sexual misconduct that reportedly spanned the course of years and involved much younger fans.
Planning to kick off a fall continental tour with three consecutive nights at The Anthem in the nation’s capital, the band first had to withstand two notable opening acts bowing out, including Feist, who left the summer European tour and publicly shared sentiments in the immediate wake of the situation, and later, Beck, who dropped off prior to the North American run just as the group’s many longtime fans were grappling with the news, including a detailed report by Pitchfork, which drew responses of condemnation from other musicians.
But with Butler’s wife and longtime bandmate Régine Chassagne coming out in support of her husband, through a statement indicating she planned to stick by his side, Arcade Fire did indeed begin its trip through North America this past week, filling DC’s most cutting-edge venue the nights of Oct. 27, 28, and 29.
Stream Arcade Fire’s newest studio album, titled WE, via Spotify:
Out to support WE, the group’s sixth full-length studio album since it began making music in 2001, this seasoned and prolifically talented group thrived together on stage, as it has for so long, weaving together beautifully captivating and expressive sounds in an explosive, riveting cross-section of some of the most treasured songs in this lasting catalogue.
And while the nature of the behavior detailed in the accusations against Butler is anything but pleasant, this tour launch in DC was nonetheless a convincing and fanciful showcase of the talented team involved in this operation, a list of standout musicians who are well connected and respected throughout the industry, most of whom have been in or involved with the group for more than 15 years.
Butler — shifting from bass to keys to guitar to piano — was of course the impassioned, emotive leader he’s been since he founded this group as a student at McGill University, and his burning voice would heighten the set in its early goings at The Anthem on Oct. 28.
With a mix of alluring presence and instrumental dexterity hard to find elsewhere in live music, Chassange showed herself to be a world-class vocalist and performer, keeping command over the crowd as she left the stage and skipped her way through it to a second one positioned underneath a tremendous, sparkling disco ball. Whether on keys, accordion or lifting the room with her gorgeous intonation, Régine was truly remarkable and a sparkplug.
Back in the spring it was announced that Win’s brother, Will, a member of the band since 2004, was leaving Arcade Fire to focus on his family. But joining Butler and Chassange on this tour include core members and two do-it-alls in Richard Reed Perry and Tim Kingsbury, longtime drummer Jeremy Gara, frequent violin contributor Sarah Neufeld, Wolf Parade frontman Dan Boeckner and, new to the touring squad this year, Paul Beaubrun, who was a force with the djembe, congas, and more.
Stream the score to the 2021 motion picture Her, created by Arcade Fire and longtime contributor Owen Pallett:
Keeping itself intact through a trying time, the band followed up what was said to be a terrific first night at The Anthem with a second such a performance in as many nights, impressing and consuming the enthusiastic audience by way of an extraordinary encore on the second stage.
Long supporters of Haiti — Chassange is of Haitian lineage — the band flew the flag of the Caribbean nation throughout the night, and Butler reminded the audience of the group’s ongoing effort to raise awareness as well as funds for the cause. A practice for years, a dollar from each ticket Arcade Fire sells is currently being donated to Chassange’s Kanpe Foundation, which supports vulnerable communities in Haiti.
Multi-instrumentalists abounding, a transfixing gala of colors and light, it was indeed a spectacular display in which nearly every person on the stage confidently and skillfully rotated through numerous devices, a presentation from a band that some would say helped define the sound of indie rock in the 2000s, when the group’s groundbreaking album Funeral became a major success and created a runway for the band’s takeoff.
Watch the official music video for “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid),” from Arcade Fire’s 2022 album WE via the band’s YouTube channel:
Some might argue that Arcade Fire touring at all runs counter to the gravity of the accusations brought against Butler, and some might very well have already turned their backs him. Others might still be processing limited information about a sensitive situation for those involved, and some followers could simply be unaware in the first place.
But for those who take in music in the nation’s capital on a regular basis, or those who simply seek the occasional thrill of an eye-popping, climactic live show built on emotionally dazzling and sonically advanced compositions, the chance to see Arcade Fire perform one of three nights at The Anthem was clearly an enticing proposition for many — evinced by a packed house for all three shows.
Age of Anxiety I
No Cars Go
My Body Is A Cage
Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)
The Lightning I
The Lightning II
Keep The Car Running
Ready To Start
The Suburbs (Continued)
Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Encore (performed from second stage mid-crowd, band walked through audience to get to it)
End of the Empire I-III
End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius A*)
Ocean of Noise
Iko (Sugar Boy and His Cane Cutters performed as the band exited the stage, walking through audience)
Here are images of Arcade Fire performing at The Anthem in Washington DC on Oct. 28, 2022. All photographs copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.