When Arcade Fire announced its massive 2014 arena tour last November, they band members attached a special request for their fans: “Night of show: Please wear formal attire or costume.” But not everyone was charmed by the request.
Many cynics described this as yet more posturing from one of the biggest, and in their eyes, most pretentious bands in the world. “Who are they to tell me what to wear? I’m an independent person who loves ‘independent’ music,” some might have thought.
Part of what seemed off-putting about Arcade Fire’s dress-up party was that it initially looked like a domineering mandatory order from people who should be concerned with the music, first and foremost.
They stressed how “super not mandatory” the whole affair was after the initial backlash, but still highly encouraged fans to join them. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, band member Richard Reed Parry had a playful analogy for detractors: “You can also not bring Christmas presents to Christmas and see how fun that is.”
But something funny happened last Wednesday night at Arcade Fire’s Consol Energy Center show: Hardly any of those naysayers showed up. Either that, or they gave into the mania and wore a costume anyway.
By the always-reliable eyeball estimate, about 70 percent of Pittsburgh concert-goers were in some type of costume or formal dress, a figure that far exceeded my expectations. Sure, I was standing at the front of the floor — a place often reserved for the most devoted megafans and disciples — but even a majority of the seated section was sporting black-tie apparel.
My friend and I both opted for the formal-attire masquerade look, with skinny ties and decorated white masks. With my limited artistic ability, I just taped a ghostly visage of frontman Win Butler cut out of paper over the white mask, which others thought might lead to my arrest due to its Michael Myers resemblance.
Some may have participated begrudgingly, just to not feel out of place or get dirty looks from the more dedicated masqueraders, but everyone who dressed up seemed to be enjoying themselves in what was one of the more relaxed concert environments I’ve ever witnessed.
So, is it pretentious when a band wants to elevate their shows to something more than just a concert, but a real event? High school proms, banquets and Halloween parties have demanded a particular type of dress long before indie-rock bands started playing arena shows.
A huge costume party fits remarkably well into Arcade Fire’s ethos. The band has always made huge communal songs with a “we’re all in this together” mantra, so why not unite together in dress? The Reflektor Tour is meant to be a dance party for the misfits — those who wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable at a 21st-century bump-and-grind. This is their prom — a prom where attendees are allowed to look like they just came from a Jay Gatsby bash, a long day at the office or the universe of Robot Unicorn Attack.
As it did on its masterful first record, Funeral, the band wants to create the most inclusive environment imaginable, where putting your arm around a complete stranger and singing along might not feel so out of the ordinary.
Once the dancing was over, the confetti had settled and our voices were strained from all the screaming and shouting, the Arcade Fire show left plenty of room for, well, reflection. For fans of the band, it can be a life-affirming event — one that answers the impossible question, “Can we work it out?” with a resounding “Yes,” for whatever “it” may be. The dry cleaning’s a small price to pay.
Write to Shawn at firstname.lastname@example.org.