Arcade Fire wrapped up an invigorating four-night residency at NYC’s, Bowery Ballroom, on Monday night. The shows come as the band is gearing up to release WE, their sixth studio LP and second from Columbia Records. After a one-off show at Toulouse Theatre in New Orleans on March 14th, Arcade Fire released the first single from the new album, Lightning I, II. The two-part song first features an anthemic ballad with singer Win Butler’s signature voice over soothing guitar and piano chords before picking up the pace into a classic Arcade Fire rock song.
On Friday, March 18th, Arcade Fire began the day by announcing a surprise show that night at Bowery Ballroom. Wristbands would be given out at the door on a first come, first served basis after making a “pay-what-you-can” donation to the Plus1 Ukraine Relief Fund. Fans flocked over to Delancey Street and within a couple of hours the show was sold-out. On Saturday morning the pattern was repeated for a second show at Bowery Ballroom; again selling out within a couple hours.
On Sunday, in anticipation of a third night (given the empty day on Bowery Ballroom’s calendar) well over 100 people wrapped around the corner waiting for wristbands. However, a mysterious sign appeared on the venue door and Arcade Fire posted an Instagram message saying that “No wristbands will be available at the door tonight. Keep an eye here for pickup locations.” With many fans having driven and flown into Manhattan, there was sudden confusion and furious speculation about potential pickup locations. The drama was fueled even further when the band posted an even more cryptic message on Twitter claiming “It’s a nice day to go to the park.” Suddenly, the geography of lower Manhattan and the path of least resistance to every park within several miles of Bowery Ballroom were being scouted.
Fans had begun to scatter around the Lower East Side once it became apparent that waiting at Bowery Ballroom was useless. A few hours later, five locations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn were revealed on social media: Washington Square Park, Central Park Northwest, McCarren Park, Maria Hernandez Park, and Ft. Greene Park. Hundreds of Arcade Fire fans suddenly hopped in cars, on bikes, the subway, or flat-out sprinted down the streets to get their wristbands. NYS Music contributor David Reichmann and two of his friends drove to Bushwick and ran full speed through Maria Hernandez Park, managing to get the very last three wristbands in that location, also the last location to sell out. All that after 3 hours of scouring Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit trying to find clues and positioning themselves in the best spot for the location announcements.
For fans who made it inside on Sunday night, there was a collective sense of relief and excitement. They had arrived against all odds and were going to see their favorite band play one of the most unique shows of their career in a very intimate room. On every night of the run, Arcade Fire played a career spanning set, including new songs and cult favorites. At one point on Sunday, Win jumped down into the audience with his guitar, expertly catching his microphone tossed from the stage by his bandmates and handed it to a fan to act as his mobile mic stand while he played and sang amongst the crowd.
Later in the evening, Win dedicated “The Suburbs” to his brother and now former band mate Will: “This is for my beautiful brother Will.” After not appearing with the band for the New Orleans show or the first two nights at Bowery Ballroom, Will officially announced his departure from Arcade Fire via his Twitter. For these shows, and presumably the upcoming tour, Will is being replaced by Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner.
On night one of the residency, fans heard classic Arcade Fire songs “Haiti,” “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” and “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels).” During the encore, the band played the new singles “Lightning I, II” followed by hit songs “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Wake Up.” Night two featured many of the same classics in a different order with the addition of the title track from their previous LP, “Everything Now.” Night three highlight was the first performance on this cycle of the raging Funeral rager “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out).
On the final night, NYS Music contributor Joseph Buscarello managed to get inside. That night, already spoiled fans were treated to a special setlist. The main set contained the same mix of classics from the previous nights. After a short break, Mike Meyers made a surprise appearance onstage for a speech. After some comedic banter with the audience, the message took on a more serious tone as Meyers addressed the war in Ukraine. Reminiscing about his parents who “fought the fascists in WWII,” Meyers implored the audience to embrace democratic governments that strive for the common good and fight against evil and oppression in the world. Doing so, he explained, is the first step towards repelling the evil the Russian government has brought into Europe today.
After a thunderous applause, the encore continued with a monstrous “Wake Up” sing-along followed by the live debut of upcoming WE single “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid).” Before playing the new song for the first time, Win asked the crowd not to record the performance to “preserve the surprise for everyone else.” The crowd obliged and we have not yet seen any clips of the performance online.
To close the show, Win introduced David Byrne onto the stage for the last song of the night. Byrne has performed with the band many times throughout their career, but the buzz in the room skyrocketed when he walked to center stage. Win surrendered the stage to the Talking Heads frontman and joined the marching band on the main floor while Bowery staff began tossing dozens of small tambourines and maracas into the crowd. Armed with voices and instruments of peace, 500 sweaty people turned into a single band for a grand rendition of The Plastic Ono Band anthem “Give Peace A Chance.” Byrne did the scatting and we all sang the chorus over and over for a seemingly endless amount of time. Finally, just as the band did on the first night, the show ended with a musical procession out to the sidewalk and down into the Bowery subway station platform. Photos of the subway performance from night one are below from friend of NYS Music Will Oliver.
As of now, the band is idle with nothing officially on the radar. These four shows were a truly unique experience and NYS Music was so fortunate to be able to attend two of the nights. Arcade Fire will sell out dozens of arenas later this year, and while those shows will be spectacles, the intimate energy and passion on display inside Bowery Ballroom will not be matched. Fans who scoured Manhattan and Brooklyn for wristbands saw once-in-a-lifetime performances from one of the most successful indie rock bands of the last 20 years. Keep your eyes focused on the band’s social media as they gear up for this new album cycle. Check out the gallery below for more photos from night three from David Reichmann.