Coachella 2011: Arcade Fire releases the bubbles

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If Woody Allen’s orgasmatron (from ‘Sleeper’) mated with a beach ball, you’d have something like the white bubbles that poured from the top of the stage into the sea of people at the end of Arcade Fire’s headlining set. For a few minutes, the audience pummelled and tossed them back and forth. From the stage, frontman Win Butler grinned, looking as though he was watching his kids open presents on Christmas Day.

Then the LED orbs started glowing red, purple, orange, yellow, green ... sometimes a melange of all colors. And that’s when the balls stopped bouncing: Some audience members wanted to keep their power (if only to stuff them under their car seats an hour or so later) all for themselves.

Photos: Panoramas of Coachella 2011

In the corner of the grounds, away from interlopers, five kids dressed in neon bathing suits, neon facepaint and feathered headdresses danced around an orb they’d spirited away. They were absolutely ecstatic to circle it in a tribal conga, perhaps waiting for it to explode, talk or read their minds.


Another guy simply rendezvoused with his alone, sometimes cradling it, other times thrashing it skyward. Until he tripped on a water bottle on the ground and almost lost his grip on his prize. Then he beat a hasty retreat for the exit, possibly sensing that his position on the field was too vulnerable. When Roger Waters played Coachella in 2008, a giant inflatable pig got loose at the end, only to float off to the dark side of the moon. Under a full moon Saturday night, no one who had nabbed a glowing orb was letting it get away anywhere. It was Arcade Fire’s parting gift to the lucky few, along with an adroitly performed show, rich with hits off of ‘The Suburbs,’ their angsty, wistful love letter to simpler times.

Images from the 2011 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival

One of the best moments of the show was the band’s stripped-down edition of ‘Rococo,’ which can pound too hard with its shivering, nervous strings on the album. There were no shortage of violins and the like -- at least two players outfitted in sequins and other shiny things -- but they didn’t take center stage, instead letting most of the song’s tension swell between Butler’s voice and the drums.

Part of Arcade Fire’s force is its unstoppable sense of movement, not only musically but also physically. It seems that someone onstage is always running or leaping or grabbing a drum and pounding something out. Outfitted in her ice-skater garb, Régine Chassagne often danced like a puppet who’d just had her strings cut, when she wasn’t jumping onto the drums. For ‘Keep the Car Running,’ one note was needled over and over again but so much swirled around it that it was a pulse in the darkness, a North Star for the weary.

‘If you’d have told us in 2002 we’d be headlining Coachella ... I would’ve said you’re full of ...,’ Butler said to the crowd early in the set. It did seem like a feat to marvel at -- Arcade Fire, once only the province of religious Pitchfork readers, now closing the second night of Coachella. Yep, it’s been a good year for these guys, what with winning a big Grammy and all. And it doesn’t seem like the bubble will be popping anytime soon.


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-- Margaret Wappler