Great Balls of Fire

The Arcade Fire's vast, spastic music will have you confused, thrilled, and begging for more

And ohh, that singer. Win Butler makes jokes, but he also gets frustrated. His face can collapse in on itself when he sings, or it can smile at everyone in the crowd all at once. He exudes the perfect combination of come close/go away. His voice screams and pleads, or it whispers suggestively, or it plaintively explains, "I am waitin'/ Till I don't know when/ 'Cause I'm sure/ It's gonna happen then." Tall and gruffly handsome, Butler commands the stage but never fills it. And when asked about it, he seems perfectly uncomfortable with all the attention his band is receiving.

"Well, I kind of relate to it in that disconnected kind of way," he tells me when I speak to him a few weeks after the CMJ show. "'Cause we're not really experiencing much of anything, except for people talking about [us]. It's kind of like a photocopy of a photocopy. I used to joke about this stuff before, the words 'hype' and 'buzz,' and it just strikes me as so funny. And to have people talking about buzz and hype in association with something I do is just like, 'Huh?' I don't know."

Like Funeral's music, its lyrics are joyfully cryptic. I explain to Butler that my ex-girlfriend, upon buying the CD at my recommendation, thought it was a not-so-subtle hint from me that we should get back together. "You change all the lead sleeping in my head to gold/ As the day grows dim/ I hear you sing a golden hymn/ The song I've been trying to say," cries Butler on "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)." The vocalist, however, doesn't see the connection.

All Dressed Up With Places to Go: Four of 
the seven members of the Arcade Fire.
All Dressed Up With Places to Go: Four of the seven members of the Arcade Fire.


Plays an impossibly sold-out show on Wednesday, Dec. 8



Luckily, the band comes back on Thursday and Friday, Jan. 13-14, to the Great American Music Hall. Tickets just went on sale for those shows; call 885-0750 or go to www.gam, quickly now.

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"I'm trying to think why she would say that," he wonders. "I've also heard people tell me that they think that the four neighborhood songs are based on Plato's Republic, the four stations of the soul. I mean, I guess that if you're a philosophy student it's about that, and if you just broke up it's about that."

See? Rorschach.

But speaking of the four neighborhoods, they're definitely clues to something. Funeral is so named because before and during its recording, Parry, Chassagne, and the Butler brothers all had family members who passed away, which may be why the work glows with a mix of sadness and celebration. "There's parents and lovers and older brothers and friends and stuff on the record," explains Butler. There's also a neighborhood, the meaning of which Butler addresses matter-of-factly: "It's where the people live, that's where their houses are. People need a place to live, so that's where they live."

One such person is a character named Alexander. He turns up on "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)," on which he undertakes a great adventure of some indecipherable kind, propelling himself away from something and somewhere with a speed expressed by urgently beaten toms that rumble into a pleading chorus. "Our mother shoulda/ Just named you Laika," sings Butler, with Chassagne belting backup vocals and the music -- accordions, drums, violins, thick guitar chords -- bursting this way and that, an ammo dump on fire. "Our mother shoulda/ Just named you Laika/ It's for your own good/ It's for the neighborhood."

"Laika was the Russian space dog," Butler explains. "He was the first living creature in space. The Russians knew he was gonna die, but they sent him up with a couple days' food just to see what would happen. They had stuff strapped to him just to monitor his heart, just to make sure you could send a living thing into space, so it's this image of this dog floating around, just being able to be the first living thing to see this amazing, beautiful, unbelievable thing, but also about to run out of food and crash into the atmosphere and burn up."

A lust for life, the immutability of death, the loved ones you count on, the same who disappear, the tattered, paint-splattered clothes of memory worn proudly -- somewhere in there exists the music of the Arcade Fire: "So the neighbors can dance/ In the police disco lights/ Now the neighbors can dance/ Look at 'em dance."

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