Arcade Fire Rock The Ryman

Arcade Fire at the Ryman Auditorium, August 9, 2010

Watching the webcast from MSG was one thing, but watching Arcade Fire from the balcony of the famed Ryman Auditorium was something else entirely. It was almost like peering into an Arcade Fire diorama – the eight members standing on the stage like cut-out characters, sending oceans of noise up to the rafters. Uncategorically, everyone was on their feet, and remained so for the entire concert, in order to better receive the gospel.

Unless Metallica has played there and nobody told me, it’s safe to say that nobody’d ever “rocked” the Ryman as hard as the Arcade Fire did last night. The legendary, Grand Old Opry-hosting stage probably needed to be specially reinforced for (guitarist-instrumentalist-tambourine flailer-brother of lead singer) William Butler alone. He’s the band member who jumps the highest, and spazzes out the most while performing, which is saying something. Arcade Fire are nothing if not animated on stage, all pent-up percussion, flailing violin bows, and hurdy gurdy histrionics. Musically, they’re what it would sound like if Bright Eyes and Modest Mouse met in the middle. Visually, they resemble a family, a communal force who can all play each other’s instruments. In fact, that was one of the benefits of being so close to these burgeoning arena rockers; seeing how often they switched it up. Enigmatic frontman Win Butler plays the bass when the mood strikes, and Regine Chassange sings back up vocals from behind the drum kit.

Another thing that was apparent: the band have super fans. The same girl who was standing directly in front of Win during the MSG broadcast, interpretive dancing with her hands and hanging on every word, was in the front at this show as well. And she wasn’t alone. A blonde McLovin lookalike lead a small cadre of ecstatic super fans in hand-clasping joy all night, at times turning around to try to cheerlead the crowd. A little distracting for us balcony folk, but hey, what are you gonna do? You imagine these kids are like, hey, Arcade Fire – we really understand you.

But it’s easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm, whether you’re a super fan or a novice. I went with a friend who doesn’t own any of their albums. She was thoroughly converted. As for myself, I don’t clap along to songs at rock shows (I’m not a clapper) as a general rule. As Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy has pointed out, you have to do it on beat, and you have to keep it going for the whole song, otherwise it doesn’t work. Yet four songs into their set, I joined the clapfest without thinking. It just felt right.

“We’re in a church,” noted Butler, alluding to the Ryman’s roots, before launching into Neon Bible’s “Intervention.” Later he’d plow through the crowd, mic in hand, to sing The Suburbs’ “We Used To Wait,” which has probably never happened at the Ryman either. They encored with “Sprawl II,” Chassange’s voice resembling a Japanese ghost’s. And they tore the roof off with “Wake Up,” as Nashville screamed back the key, cathartic lyric: “I guess we’ll just have to adjust!” The Arcade Fire had just conquered another venue.