9 May 2007...7:22 pm

Working Uptown

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I went to the see the Arcade Fire at the United Palace Theater last night. I’d had big plans to show Max the Elder the apartment where my parents & I lived when I was small, but some pork tacos and the persistently tourist-stymied walk through midtown meant we didn’t really have time. Seven-eighteen one seventy-first, fourth floor facing west, forgive me. I know that the relevant chattering classes have been writing about the United Palace and my limited architectural knowledge doesn’t enable me to contribute anything meaningful, but I will say that it struck me as big & drafty—but that’s probably a function of my similarity to that aNYthing fellow in that I never see shows above, well, Summer Stage. Ani rocks! Put your legs together! Your male privilege balls aren’t that big! aNYway, you might say I’m similar to him. The theater kept reminding Max of Salomon, the biggest lecture hall at Brown, one that’s cemented itself in my mind as (a) where Cathy cried as we unfurled a banner calling Richard Perle a war criminal and (b) where the lighting meant that everyone, however well nourished they were, looked sallow enough to indicate kidney failure.

We had general admission tickets, which meant that we queued up obediently (Max is much better at behaving obediently than I), waiting our turn to fill up the narrow aisle to the right of all the seats. We stood there for awhile, shuffling & leaning against each other and squinting at the stage.

“Silver cello!” I yelped. And, a minute later, “that pipe organ looks a little bit like Oz.” Which it did, squished into totally disorienting perspective up on a platform to the rear of the stage. As a matter of course, I talk far too much during shows, and I was trying to get some of it out of my system.

The National played beautifully, if unremarkably—we, like just about everyone else I saw, sat down during their entire set, which was presumably what Matt Berninger wanted to do after he, like, broke his ankle when a mic stand fell on it, or something. It wasn’t clear what had happened, and he’s a relatively tortured vocalist anyway so it took me awhile to realize something was off. “Max!” I whispered, “this is the time to do the Lisa Turtle Sprain!” And he was, to a certain extent, doing just that, only with less of a curly brown ponytail. Who would be his Screech? The big glasses and David Byrne-suit wearing Dessner/Devendorf?

Anyway, they rocked hard. I’ve read that people think the Funeral songs are more successful live than Neon Bible ones, but I’d completely disagree—the show was choreographed, basically, (Regine, por lo menos, was choreographed) around a biblical theme & an active church was an ideal place to milk the haunted, mournful verbosity of that album. The opening video sequence (replaced during the set with images of the band) showed Aimee Semple McPherson–I think, I think–looking like a Kiss member preaching the Four Square Gospel in a mildly discomfiting and also extremely appealing atmospheric shift. During “Intervention” one of the young men not playing drums ripped pages out of what I took to be a Bible—that was a slightly silly move, right? Like something Zach Kline would have done in eighth grade for an English class presentation of Fahrenheit 451? On the momentary lack of sophistication scale, he scored close to Regine crooning, during “Haiti,” what struck me as “my family tree-eees/losing all its leave-eees” (but wasn’t) through her Madonna-gloved hands—even though that was my fault, not hers. I never felt embarrassed for the band, though, because I was madly loving them and also I was tangibly aware of the effort they put into and the glee they clearly get from performing.

And then they invited everyone on stage! Again, a refreshingly ego-less gesture! (Does that sentence deserve to be an exclamation?) This meant, of course, that until Win Butler surfaced again, those of us who [se boyfriends] had been waylaid early in the show by a MoMA internet calamity were perfunctorily presented with the lumpy bottoms and saggy messenger bags of a crowd that I persistently sensed was composed primarily of elementary school teachers who worked in the Bronx.

If only those teachers—the actual ones—who really are working downtown for the minimum wage could rock as hard as Butler & co. There’d be a revolution, and Washington Heights would become what Jess mistook it for earlier that night when she’d been in the neighborhood for barbeque: a hipster Mecca. And the United Palace? A hipster mosque.

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