I’m jumping up and down to get my blood flowing. My toes feel like ice cubes, and I’m starting to get hungry. Two guys beside me offer up some whiskey wrapped tight in a paper bag. I gratefully accept. Every two minutes pedestrians stop midstride to ask the few hundred people outside of the church why they’re standing in the cold.
“Confession,” someone quips.
14 Feb 2007: Judson Memorial Church New York, NY
I love Valentine’s Day.
Two hours have passed since I tagged on to the end of this line, and it’s been forty-five minutes since a gruff security guard strolled up to a person twenty-five spots ahead of me to told them they had no chance of getting inside, that we were “just wasting our time.” A few people become discouraged and leave the line. The rest of us just hope and pray.
Earlier in the day, Brooklyn Vegan, a popular New York music blog, revealed that a few tickets would be released at the door each evening of Arcade Fire’s four-night residency at Judson Memorial Church in Washington Square Park. Regular tickets for all four nights sold out within minutes of going on sale, as this was the first opportunity for many to hear the new tracks from the band’s sophomore album, Neon Bible. The band took a unique stance to combat scalping by only allowing will call tickets. So the only people who are getting into these much-hyped shows are the lucky lottery winners and the poor sons of bitches who don’t mind spending Valentine’s Day fighting off frostbite.
With slight amusement in his voice, the sullen guard informs a group of people ten spots behind me that they will not be getting in. I’m reinvigorated, convinced I will make the cut. The couple ahead of me tries pulling me in with them but the guard says that they are only permitting two at a time. Still, I’m next. The guard puts his hand up and tells me to relax—even though he’s not sure if anyone else is going to be let in. Five minutes go by. Then ten. A few people behind me joke about rushing the door as I contemplate pissing my pants to hold my place in line.
“Ten more and that is it, folks,” he yells at the top of his lungs, and I am ushered inside with the other nine coldest, happiest people in New York. “The rest of you, just go home!”
The main floor of the church is located on the second level. I feel like I’m in a Tim Burton movie: as I walk through the half-filled room, colored lights from stained-glass windows warm the stage. The venue could easily fit a hundred more people. Having been raised Catholic, I’m feeling a sense of mischievous excitement as I crack open my first Budweiser and smell grass burning through the air.
The room is pretty dim when a neon bible’s pages flash on in the background—it’s like there’s a gust of electric wind in the air. The band—all ten of them—come filtering in from the side of the stage dressed in their usual funeral-bearer attire. Lead singer Win Butler walks up to his mic with a smile from ear to ear and says hello to the screaming audience. The band quickly breaks into “No Cars Go,” an older song that found its way onto the new album. It is vintage Arcade Fire as the band screams “Hey!” intermittently and the audience pump their hands in the air.
Régine Chassagne—Butler’s wife and the band’s anchor—is as playful as a pixie this evening. She wears gloves that extend almost to her elbows and shimmer in the light. Her rendition of the reggae-infused “Haiti” is phenomenal as she smiles playfully with her fans and shimmies her hips to the sounds of the band.
The crowd is most engaged during Funeral favorites “Power Out” and “Tunnels,” but everyone is here to for the new material. The new tracks are carefully executed—the band has managed to create songs that don’t sound too much like the debut without ditching everything that’s made them successful. It’s a Catch 22 that many hyped groups fall prey to when it comes time to record their follow up (see the Rapture, Strokes).
Butler makes mention of how he and Chassagne don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, much to Chassagne’s exaggerated chagrin. As organ begins to fill the room like an opening processional on Christmas morning, he dedicates a bombastic version of “My Body is a Cage” to her.
Songs like “Intervention” and “Black Mirror” pull from the Funeral palette, but many of the other new songs venture into different territory. Do you remember that god-awful John Mellencamp song “My Country” that was shoved down our throats during the World Series last year? It was supposed to be a new anthem to unite Americans and build our resolve against nameless enemies. Well, that song sucked, but Arcade Fire have nailed its intent with “Keep the Car Running” and “Antichrist Television Blues” (which is reportedly about Joe Simpson, creepy father to Jessica and Ashlee). Butler does an admirable job summoning his inner Springsteen. Amazing: this group of Canadians is writing pitch-perfect American rock that simultaneously takes potshots at their imperialistic neighbors. See “Windowsill”: “Don’t want the salesman knocking at my door/ I don’t want to live in America no more/ …MTV what have you done to me?/ save my soul/ set me free!”
Throughout the evening Butler thanks the crowd for their kindness and explains that he has been pretty ill for a month. “This crowd is so much better than last night’s!” he exclaims. “You guys must be from a different borough. Maybe you’re all from the friendly borough!”
Then, unlike the evening before, the band treats us to a two-song encore that includes my new favorite, “Ocean of Noise.” Butler looks like he needs a humidifier and a long night of sleep.
I walk out of the room and down the stairs as a couple ahead of me holds hands and kisses. I leave the Judson alone and tighten my scarf around my neck with a smile. The temperature has not improved since I walked into the show an hour and half before, but my body is filled with warmth as I consider how others spent their Valentine’s Day alone.