Arcade Fire proved there’s room for earnestness in the world of pristinely hip indie rock. Then they ended their fruitful relationship with the indie label Merge Records, signed to Columbia Records, and got all ironic.
In a business where even the best-credentialed indie bands angle to license tracks for TV commercials, it feels very 20th century to get all defensive about signing with a major label. But that’s my guess for the motive behind the clouds of irony wafting through Arcade Fire’s well-polished, highly energetic show at the TD Garden on Friday — an extension of the deliberately alienating publicity campaign for their new album “Everything Now,” which included a promotional website that automatically fills your screen with pop-up ads.
From advertising copy explaining that the concert was presented “in synergy with the Sony Corporation” (Columbia’s parent company), to a pre-show video clip urging everybody to stock up on souvenirs, the message was: Entertainment product is treated like any other commodity, and you, the audience, are complicit.
It’s a valuable, if not very fresh, thesis. But the more vital irony is that the show still set out to triumph over the limitations of arena rock, and mainly succeeded.
A highly kinetic, nine-member iteration of the group (including percussionist Tiwill Duprate and violinist Sarah Neufeld) performed on a square stage plopped in the middle of the arena that mimicked a boxing ring, moving around the space to play to fans on all sides. The setup instantly made the room feel much less cavernous. A conscientious video presentation paired careful camerawork and digital effects to underline lyrical themes while improving sightlines. It was a great-looking show.
And if the logistics of the venues Arcade Fire plays these days no longer allow for acoustic encores out in the lobby, at least the band played itself through the crowd at the evening’s close, in a procession with openers Preservation Hall Jazz Band for a lingering, wordless reprise of “Everything Now.”
Frontman Win Butler took to upright piano for a lovely “Neon Bible,” but otherwise things were nearly always dialed to 11, whether on the furious rock stomp of “Rebellion (Lies)” or the moody dance-pop of “Reflektor” and new tune “Creature Comfort,” the latter assuming arena-rock size to earn its climactic pairing with “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out).”
Crucially, this dance party did miss the shifting dynamics and drama that one time defined the band; there was room for little here save the grand, loud gesture. But Arcade Fire delivered an infectiously energetic chunk of entertainment product that leaned on the band’s widescreen sonic sensibilities to turn the arena setting into a virtue.
So why undercut that triumph by artfully sowing a sense of alienation? If the show’s conceptual wrapping held the audience at arm’s length, the performance itself was a sweaty embrace.
With Preservation Hall Jazz Band
At: TD Garden, Friday
More photos from the show:Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.