Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

Outside Lands 2011: Arcade Fire

Although I've been listening to Arcade Fire since the end of high school, it always seemed wrong that more people didn't know about them. And this year, they finally got what they've been owed for a long while: the coveted Grammy for Album of the Year. Even after cries of "Who the F**k is Arcade Fire?!", seemingly everyone knows their breath-taking oeuvre, all the way back to 2004's Funeral album. Thank goodness, because every one of their songs are made for the hugest of huge sing-alongs, and that's exactly what Sunday's audience of thousands gave frontman Win Butler and the gang.

"It's the last day of the festival, so just meet us in the middle and let's all have a good time together," said Butler, who led the eight-piece band through the single most revelatory performance of the entire three-day fest. He'd warmed up his iconic voice with Mavis Staples earlier that day ("Now I can die a happy man," he said), which made for blazing renditions of their best songs, beginning with the Springsteen-esque "Keep The Car Running", then onto "No Cars Go", "Ready to Start", "Month Of May", the haunting "We Used To Wait", the stomp of "Rococo", and oldies like the hair-raising "Rebellion (Lies)", "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" and "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)". Each band member danced frantically to his or her own beat, yet played perfectly in unison, all with intoxicating emotion that inevitably rubbed off on the crowd.

Butler made his way into the crowd at one point, microphone in one hand while his other hand reached out to touch the fans in front of him. They professed their love for our city by exclaiming "It's dangerous being in San Francisco when it's sunny. It makes us want to move here." Butler, a frontman who makes music that seems almost too big for the main stage at Outside Lands, living in our small city? He'd never get left alone.

The last song of their two-song encore was "Wake Up", and I'd be surprised if you couldn't hear it all the way downtown. After the lights went off and the band threw tambourines, drumsticks and even a microphone into the crowd, people walked away buzzing with enough adrenaline to guarantee a completely restless nights of sleep.

Text by Laura Mason