Concert Reviews

Over The Weekend: Arcade Fire and Okkervil River at Gexa Energy Pavilion

Arcade Fire, Okkervil River
Gexa Energy Pavilion
April 30, 2011

Better than:
any other show you've seen in 2011.

More than five years have passed since Arcade Fire last played Dallas -- something of which the crowd that came to see the band play the freshly minted Gexa Energy Pavillion (nee a bajillion other names) on Saturday night was well aware.

The band, too: "The last time we were here, we were at Trees," Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler announced to his adoring crowd six songs into his band's 80-minute offering, referencing his band's 2005 tour through town in support of the band's debut full-length, Funeral. "So it's been a while."

Indeed: The eight-piece Arcade Fire that graced the stage in Fair Park this weekend was a far different band than the one previously seen in Dallas. These days, three albums into their career, Arcade Fire has truly transformed into kings of their own domain, riding high of their recent Grammy award for album of the year win and not afraid to get a little evangelistic with political causes, either.

Considering the high-energy display they offered -- one that fully satisfied the eager audience's palpable anticipation -- the band, pretty much, proved their right to do as they please.

Set to perform beneath a moviehouse marquee that read "Now Playing: The Suburbs" (a reference to the band's most recent full-length album title) and before a video screen backdrop, the band was ushered onto the stage with the help of some film clips -- a trailer for the 1979 suburban thriller Over the Edge (Matt Dillion's on-screen debut, for what it's worth) and a clip of the also-release-in-1979 film The Warriors (the famed "Can you dig it!" scene) -- before starting their set, quite appropriately, with The Suburbs' "Ready to Start."

From there, the band performed cuts from across their catalog, leaning least heavily on 2007's heavily Bruce Springsteen-influenced Neon Bible, but capably giving each disc its due.

More refreshing, however, were the band members' spirits on this night. Sometimes derided as dour and too serious, the oddly coiffed Win Butler (party all around his head, save for the buzzed, left side business) and his fellow players seemed rather chipper on this night. Butler, despite having long departed his native Texas (he and his brother Will were raised in Houston suburb The Woodlands), aside from one aside in which he called Houston "depressing" was mostly nostalgic, egged on, he said, by the rains that had drenched the Metroplex earlier in the evening.

"I miss the warm rain," he said. He appeared to miss the interstate rivalry between Houston and Dallas, too. After telling the audience that he'd spotted Tyson Chandler in a French restaurant in town, Butler brought up the Dallas Mavericks' chances in the NBA playoffs. "Who are you guys playing in the next round?" he asked. "The Lakers? Good luck with that. Womp, womp." The crowd, more than anything, was amused by this backhanded derision.

And why not? Up through his band's final main set song, "We Used to Wait," and on through Arcade Fire's two-song encore of "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" and "Wake Up," the band's spirited offering was everything the audience could have hoped it would see. The members thrashed about the stage appropriately, repeatedly earning unsolicited clapalongs from the audience throughout their set, which, perhaps egged on by the lack of lawn seat sales at this show, felt far more intimate than any show at Gexa Energy Pavilion has any right to feel.

Earlier in the night, Okkervil River, performing songs from their upcoming release I Am Very Far and the rest of their catalog, with a heavy influence on 2007's The Stage Names, performed an appropriately jangly and literate set, albeit one that felt somewhat sloppy -- the result, no doubt, of this show being the band's first official, non-SXSW display of its new material.

Still, there's no question: Come the end of the calendar year, this is a night that will be remembered as one of 2011's greatest concert offerings.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I'm a huge Arcade Fire fan -- to the point where I was only reluctantly happy when they won the Grammy. Yes, I'm that guy when it comes to this band; I don't want every Joe in the world to like them like I do. Too bad, thanks to the Grammy win, that much seems to have already come to pass. A neighbor in my apartment complex with a particularly loud sound system seems to have just discovered them. Oh well.

By The Way: After performing "Haiti," the band announced that they had workers out by the merch booths collecting donations for Partners in Health, an organization that works to improve conditions in rural Haiti.

Random Note: My seats were right in front of the cast of next-generation Ewings in town shooting the TNT pilot for the Dallas reboot. Among the actors present: Jordana Brewster, Jesse Metcalfe and Josh Henderson, the last of which was sure to tell me that the cast was "real happy to be here in Dallas," blah, blah, blah.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman