It was an early start to the evening as the National took the stage at 7 p.m. I think this early start time may have confused many concert-goers as the venue was only perhaps 30% full when the band's opening number "Start a War" kicked in. By no means are the National a band meant for arena rock, but the band managed to pull it off quite well.
Baritone-voiced front man Matt Berninger was entertaining throughout the set, joking between songs about how exactly it was that he injured his foot (a kitten bite, then an orangutan, later a scorpion). The National's sound filled the venue nicely as the mix was balanced amongst the chiming and distorted guitars, rhythmic percussion and the two-man horn section. It was a great 60-minute set with highlights of "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and an excellent performance of "Mr. November" that had Berninger out in the crowd (for the second time) with soundmen in tow to carry his mic cable. He walked through the Scottrade's general admission section, back past the soundboard and up into the seats to visit with the crowd as he sang. It was a spectacle that got a standing ovation that the National truly deserved.
After a 30-40 minute intermission, the lights dimmed again for the main act. The setup was a retro fitting that fashioned the stage to appear similar to that of an old drive-in movie theater. Three large screens were placed above the stage and a large projection screen behind the drummer. "The Arcade Fire Presents" was featured on one screen and "The Suburbs" on the other as the lights dimmed and a short introductory film played.
The band came out to a large crowd response as the film began to wind down and the intro to "Ready to Start," an upbeat rock number from the band's Grammy-winning The Suburbs kicked in. It was a great song to open with and following-up with the fan-favorite "Rebellion (Lies)" from 2004's Funeral made for a fast start to the evening.
The contrast between Arcade Fire's stage show and that of the opener's was so stark that it took a bit of time to adjust. The National is low-key and very earnest in performing its deeply textured, well-arranged music while Arcade Fire put on something that could be likened to a circus show. It's colorful, fast moving and high energy with band members bouncing around and moving all about as they have several multi-instrumentalists.
Five words sum up the evening: It was a great night.
Many black and white films were played during the band's set, which were fitting to the mood of Arcade Fire's songs. "Modern Man" was played to a vintage clip of a man at home dressed in suit-and-tie, the island-vibe of "Haiti" featured a tropical backdrop of palm trees, blowing in the wind, while "The Suburbs" was played to slow, lingering clips full of suburban imagery (kids on bicycles, neighborhood houses).
"It's taking us a while to get used to this whole arena rock thing," said front man Win Butler. It didn't really show as the band seemed more than comfortable on stage and their sound was plenty large to fill the room. They still managed to get plenty of emotion across even in this massive venue with a great performance of the brooding and reflective "Intervention."
"Keep the Car Running" from 2007's Neon Bible seemed to really get the crowd going with its upbeat rhythm that had Butler wielding his mandolin. It was a blistering set that had a frantic pace so it was surprising when Butler announced, "This will be our last song," before they began the opening to "Wake Up." The crowd really responded: everyone sang along and the in-house cameras panned across the audience and projected onto the large screens.
After a few good-byes the band left the stage and the roadies prepped things for the encore. A brief film started again and the band returned for a rocking performance of "Month of May."
"Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" was next and then the show closer "Sprawl II" which had singer/keyboardist and percussionist Regine Chassagne up front to sing her second song of the night. She twirled and danced as she sang her dancy number, the venue turning pitch black with each chorus of, "I need the darkness/someone please cut the lights."
Arcade Fire put on a thoroughly entertaining 90-minute set. The energetic band seems more than capable of playing large arenas as the multi-media aspects of the show were well executed. "The National really shouldn't be opening for us," said Butler at one point. But the fact that they did made for a fantastic evening of music.