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Art and death

The visceral artistry of Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire continue to bring cathartic art-rock to the masses. Photo courtesy of Facebook

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When I was working as a volunteer at The Grand Cinema in 2005, I was given headphones by a girl and told to listen to this new band called Arcade Fire. I listened in, and what I heard was the sound of a scrappy group of Canadians making lo-fi versions of arena anthems. I took the headphones off after half a song, and I gave them back, saying, "Sounds good, but it's not really my speed." I hadn't yet been introduced to the wonders of pop songcraft in the lower fidelity, nor had I even begun to realize the full potential of this band called Arcade Fire.

Later, once I had really begun to dig myself into music beyond the Four Seasons and the Beatles and everything else that my parents had raised me with - essentially, once the Flaming Lips and Modest Mouse had entered my life - I was finally ready to approach Arcade Fire with the knowledge that, not only were they making music that was viscerally, compellingly performed, but that would come to influence an entire decade of bands. For God's sake, U2 finally got around to copying them on the opening track, "The Miracle (O of Joey Ramone)", of their iTunes-enforced latest release.

Since Arcade Fire's enormous first album, Funeral, they've struggled with what it means to be Arcade Fire. The art-rock aesthetic was clear from the beginning, but it was couched in a muscular energy that proved a handy counterpoint to their uptight, Amish get-ups. Their second album, a classic difficult sophomore attempt, found them reaching even further into the arcane sounds of a band that suddenly found themselves given permission to do anything. Their third, The Suburbs, was a sprawling take on Americana that netted them a Grammy for "Best Album of the Year" (followed by a torrent of people on social media wondering who the hell this band was).

After almost 10 years of being on the cusp of being the biggest, most exciting band in the world, Arcade Fire decided to take it a step further and create a challenging double album that reaffirmed their place as simultaneously the most popular and most difficult band out there. Reflektor, for all its charms, is an album that pushes the boundaries of accessibility. At 75 minutes, Reflektor is a loose concept album about Haiti, identity, what it means to be a rock band, and art as a salve for those in need. It's catchy, frustrating, overlong, and ultimately affecting. Sure, there's some fat that could easily be trimmed, but Arcade Fire have never been in the business of sugar-coating their music for the population.

Their debut album dealt with death and love, and their subjects haven't softened since.

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, The Grand Cinema will be having a one-time-only showing of Arcade Fire: Reflektor Tapes, which is a documentary featuring behind-the-scenes footage of the creation of the double album, as well as performances and some sure to be mind-bending moments from the band that has now established itself as the artsy behemoth. Given free reign to do whatever they want to do, Arcade Fire have decided to use their powers for good: good for the world, good for art, and good for music as it moves forward in the unknown.

You may not like everything they do (I liked Neon Bible more than The Suburbs, which is an unpopular opinion), but you must recognize a group of true artists infiltrating the mainstream. "Who the hell are Arcade Fire?," a legion of pop fans may ask. Whether you want them to be or not, they are the ones helping to usher in an age of artistry in a medium that doesn't necessarily reward it.

Arcade Fire: Reflektor Tapes, The Grand Cinema, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 7 p.m., 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, 253.593.4474

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