The indie-rock revival meeting at the Tower Theater on Saturday night began with a video of a hyperventilating female Pentecostal preacher declaring that this sick world is in dire need of a "Holy Ghost enema."
The Montreal ensemble Arcade Fire then proceeded to make the argument that it is the band best qualified to musically administer that medical treatment.
Employing French horns, violins and a pipe organ, the 10-piece outfit led by the husband-and-wife tandem of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne fervidly played material from its 2004 Funeral and new Neon Bible as if the hounds of hell were nipping at its heels.
With the stage dramatically done up in scarlet and black and video images displayed on five circular screens while the musicians traded instruments – Chassagne played hurdy-gurdy, accordion, keyboard and drums – Arcade Fire delivered its us-against-the-world narratives with theatrical flair.
And any potential disconnect between an ardent indie band playing a sit-down venue was done away with after the opening "Black Mirror," when Butler urged the sold-out crowd to ignore seat assignments and fill the aisles.
The audience complied, and stood throughout a 75-minute set full of Neon Bible songs such as "Keep the Car Running" and "(Antichrist Television Blues)" that hurtled forward like mini-chase movies, with the band of brothers and sisters staying one step ahead of imminent apocalyptic doom.
Arcade Fire specializes in creating a triumphant wall of noise that faces down dread with communal determination. Subtlety sometimes gets steamrolled in the process, and Butler would do well to occasionally turn down the breathless intensity a notch, as he did most effectively on Neon Bible's title track, the only performance of the evening that could be described as understated.
But when the band's full-on, fists-raised, horns-blaring, violins-wailing, no-holding-back approach works, it's thrilling. As it was on the insistent Springsteenesque soldier's story "Intervention," and the antiwar "Windowsill," in which native Texan Butler's declaration "I don't want to live in America no more" was greeted with cheers.
The show peaked with the "Rebellion (Lies)," from Funeral. With the band's keyboard player smashing cymbals overhead and ripping out pages from a book in a show of rejecting received wisdom, Butler urgently shouted out that "sleeping is giving in, no matter what the time is," bringing the band's carpe diem message home with grandiose conviction.