Two thirds of the way through Arcade Fire’s Wednesday night set at the Cynthia Mitchell Woodlands Pavilion, after shortly prying myself away from the high energy coming from the stage for a breath of fresh air, I happened upon a woman engulfed in a cloudy haze.
She was standing atop the divider between the lawn and the covered seating area in the Pavilion, full of curly hair and a face that was all smiles, swaying back and forth and singing with a voice that sounded like a cherub singing in a night club.
As I got closer, I noticed that I was surrounding by folks dressed in formal attire, stealing photos, twisting and gyrating to the rhythm coming from the stage. “My God,” I thought. “That’s Régine Chassagne! She’s left the stage and she’s joined this wild crowd!”
"This song is about leaving this town and then coming back and then leaving again."
Chassagne, Arcade Fire singer, multi-instrumentalist, and go-go dancer extraordinaire, went on to finish the song “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” then hustled back on stage for a kinetic performance of “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” before closing out Arcade Fire’s main set with a spot-on cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.”
And yet Chassagne’s moment was just that — a moment — though she could easily make a career for herself as a chanteuse, albeit one that’s adept at the accordion and the xylophone.
As intoxicating as Chassagne’s presence was, the night belonged to front man Win Butler.
This night was a homecoming of sorts for the man raised in The Woodlands only to leave town and make a name for himself as the leader of Arcade Fire, a group who has, after four albums and more than a dozen awards, cemented itself in North America’s indie rock pantheon in the last 10 years.
Conquering Cynthia Woods is no small task for any band, and it is especially difficult for a band as dedicated to the electric energy of a live performance as the current incarnation of Arcade Fire. The venue, with its sprawling lawn and pesky 11 p.m. curfew, is not always kind to groups with a 12-man set up playing two hours worth of soul-infused rock music.
However, Butler and his band full of percussionists, brass, guitars and strings rose to the occasion. From the outset with opener “Reflektor,” the title track from the group’s latest album, Butler had complete control over both the band and his audience.
For the next couple of hours, Arcade Fire tore through a set heavy on songs from last year’s Reflektor and updated versions of favorites from 2004’s Funeral, an album which seemingly graced every single best-of-the-decade list you could count.
Yet, it was a brief line spoken by Butler before launching into “The Suburbs,” the title track from the 2011 Grammy-winning album of the year, that received the biggest cheer of the night. "This song is about leaving this town and then coming back and then leaving again,” proclaimed Butler, giving The Woodlands crowd a knowing grin.
This short line was one of the many moments in which Butler made the audience feel like he was still one of them while also being witty enough to take on Texas culture in front of an audience who would probably do the same, given the opportunity. During the encore break, a fake band full of oversized heads came out to Perry Como’s version of “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” led by a dancer wearing a cubical LCD screen flashing talking heads of both Rick Perry and George W. Bush.
The show ended in the most celebratory way possible, with Butler and company making a round through the concourse of the Pavilion, chanting the soaring, anthemic chorus of “Wake Up” along with the crowd, and finally finishing up near the south side of the seating area with nothing but the brass, playing their fans out of the stadium.
These are the things of spiritual retreats, not rock concerts. And that’s what made Wednesday night so unexpectedly infectious.