Hold the Phone: Arcade Fire Lands in Bushwick
It was a strange sight for Bushwick– a queue of smartly-dressed young people stretching several blocks down a warehouse-lined street on a Friday night. There were women in flowing vintage gowns arm-in-arm with men in suits and bowties. Some wore sparkling Mardi gras masks; others were adorned in festive hats and capes.
A truck with massive speakers crawled past the line, pumping amateur rap beats, followed by a guy yelling into a microphone and another one filming the crowd. Paper-bagged beers could be spotted being passed around the hands of prim and polished party-goers.
Meserole looked like the entry way to a post-collegiate prom from an alternate universe. The crowd had cleaned up for the mandatory costume/formal-wear request that came with their tickets; they looked like real adults who owned homes and attended galas, their dirty-cool-tossled-apathetic selves Clark Kent-ed away under pressed linen and cuff-links.
The line snaked its way to the entrance of 299 Meserole, a former sheet metals and plastic factory, with a layout resembling that of a parking garage. The bare space was specially outfitted with disco balls, metallic cone-hangings, and glitter, like a high school gym before the dance.
This was, of course, the not-so-secret secret Arcade Fire show, with the band performing under the moniker, The Reflektors, to promote a new album, Reflektor, around buzz for the new single (you guessed it), “Reflektor.” And the buzz was zzz-ing all over the internet, especially around scalpers selling tickets for $1000 and the show selling out in under a minute.
After much mingling and beer-buying, the packed art space/garage roared, as indie darling and producer of the record, James Murphy, came out on stage to introduce the band, while three masked bobble-headed players strummed on guitars (a la the Reflektor music video).
Just as the show was about to get started (or so we thought), mysterious drums began to play from behind a curtain stage-left. This went on for a good few minutes, as the crowd chattered and pointed confusedly, with no clue as to what was happening. Suddenly, cheers of astonishment erupted as the curtains parted, revealing a SECRET stage to the far left. Oh, the trickery! A secret stage at a secret show! It was a beautiful prank, and the joke was on us (well, more on the people at the original stage); it was a bait-and-switch fit for even the most clever slumber party prankster.
The performance was fiery, full of energy and some epic new dance jams, evidence enough that the new album will be just as big a hit as the last three. Win Butler sweat right through his white blazer, as he explained the brilliant strategy behind his master trick: “We just thought it’d be funny.” When old songs were played, they were referred to as “Arcade Fire covers,” which, coupled with the costumes and the industrial atmosphere, clouded the evening with a surreal sense of self-awareness.
There was just one thing, one little piece of screen and metal that tainted the magic of the evening. The crowd was made of of two groups: half of the costumed bunch was dancing and singing, while the other half just stood there like zombies holding their phones right in front of their eyeballs.
I promise this isn’t one of those now I’m going to chide millennials for using technology rants. I, too, have these impulses. Just when I’m about to really get into a song, a string of thoughts enters my brain space: I need to tell someone, everyone, where I am. People care what I’m doing at this very moment. They’ll respect me, nay, admire me, when they see that I’m at this
secret Arcade Fire show. I must validate this experience or it will be like it never happened. I quickly become overpowered by the impulse to record everything. Soon the desire will be too much and like Dr. Jekyll taking control of Hyde’s arm, I find myself reaching into my pocket to take a crappy video of the song I was previously paying attention to. Before I know it, I’m typing hashtags and have completely forgotten where I am.
There were approximately several hundred of the nearly 2000 concert-goers that evening that didn’t take their phones down throughout the entire duration of the show–these ladies and gentlemen actually recorded the whole 75 minute performance on their wobbly iphone screens. Others texted throughout, missing entire songs. The mystery remains; who were they texting? Did they lose their friends while standing the same spot for an hour? The space was packed to the brim, so there was really no point in trying to meet anyone or move anywhere. Regardless, is it really necessary to text, “I’m watching Arcade Fire!!!” while simultaneously watching your text responses instead of Arcade Fire?
We don’t take photos of the movies or plays we’re seeing because that would be rude/distracting/pointless, so why does this happen consistently at shows? Is it the hype? Why is the act of going to a concert something that we feel particularly inclined to publicize on social media?
There are a lot of options to share an amazing experience with The Followers. There’s Instagram and Vine and Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and probably a dozen more photo/video-sharing tools that are being patented in Silicon Valley at this very moment. There are little follower people on all of those apps hungry to see what we are doing and where we are and judge accordingly.
But we have to resist. We have to put the phones down.
Photography doesn’t inherently prevent us from being in the moment. And snapping one picture on a phone is hurting anyone. But if we all take 10 photos and countless videos during the show, the band is looking down onto a sea of screens and I guarantee that the energy of the crowd will stifle and dull itself to death. The few concert-goers who are trying to dance and scream and feel some kind of emotional response to the music they are hearing will be overshadowed by a video that will most likely be blurry, overexposed, and in all likelihood, deleted shortly thereafter.
I’m no poet, but it seems pretty clear that the song Reflektor is about just this conundrum; the difficulty of being fully present in the technological age, when the mediation of the screen becomes more powerful than the connection itself.
The signals we send
Are deflected again
We’re still connected
But are we even friends?
We fell in love when I was nineteen
And I was staring at a screen
Throughout the show, it seemed as though the message that the band itself was trying to convey was continually lost into the same mirror-filled void.
just a reflection of a reflection of a reflection of a reflection
After the set ended and fifteen minutes went by with no encore, Butler came out again and announced that he and his band would DJ for the remainder of the evening and encouraged everything to dance with them. This elicited boos from the crowd and the majority of the parking garage/art venue cleared out.
Thirty minutes later, Butler could be found playing dance songs from a laptop in the corner of the building, wearing a white, faceless mask. A crowd was assembled around him. They were still and silent…and they were pointing their phones in his direction, recording each other, recording him.
Several feet away, a couple danced, their arms waving, eyes closed. They looked like they were having a good time.