The Arcade Fire rock Philly

Kristen Grayewski

On Monday night, crowds of grinning, quick-footed bandwagoners flocked to Philly’s South Street to watch The Arcade Fire, this year’s champion of the buzz bands.

“Funeral,” The Arcade Fire’s debut album, is one of the year’s most acclaimed releases, featured near the top of just about every critic’s top-ten of 2004 list. However, acclaim doesn’t explain why ticket-less people were outside in the cold begging venue representatives “to make their dreams come true” by endowing them with passes.

And critical darling status alone can’t explain the eager concert-goers were eager -so eager, in fact, that they were all smiling as they entered the doors and dancing from the first strums of the opening number “Wake Up.”

There’s something more behind The Arcade Fire’s success than what others have to say about them; the appeal of team Arcade Fire, eight-members strong, has to do with numbers, and with the noise that numbers, when joined together, can create.

In the sound of The Arcade Fire, you can pick out violins, guitars, drums, bass, keys, and, depending on the tune, whatever else they pull out of the instrument closet: accordion, harp, sleigh bells, steel drum, or bike helmets and drumsticks.

Their strongest asset, though, is voice. More than half of the songs they perform include some interlude of monosyllabic, guttural shouts courtesy of everyone (even the violinists) onstage.

These cries range from the diaphragmatic “Hey!” of “No Cars Go,” sounding like a whole cheer squad, to the anthem ” ah ah ah ah ah ah” of “Wake Up,” to the gentle chorus of moans that close “In the Backseat.”

When the members pound their instruments – and sometimes each other, as during “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” when two bandmates use the helmets and drumsticks to bang sound out of their heads and every surface onstage – and raise their voices, they are offering a primal release from the stuff of life that they sing about, namely death and falling asleep, while simultaneously being a soundtrack for an audience eager to release the same kind of worries and tensions.

The Arcade Fire’s bandwagon is getting crowded, but newcomers’ voices are a welcome addition for a strengthened sound.