by / May 9th, 2011 /

Arcade Fire – New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

“D’ya ever suck the head o’ a crawdad?” Not something you’re likely to overhear whilst standing in 30 degree heat at an Irish summer music festival. State has ended up at a huge racecourse in Louisiana and crawfish, or crawdaddy shells litter the ground around one of the numerous amazing food stalls that are scattered over the fairgrounds at this 7 day festival with 15 different stages. Whilst being billed as a ‘Jazz and Heritage Festival’ it’s a musical event that has been taking place for over 40 years and has a range of acts from Haiti traditional drummers, Native American singing to the likes of Willie Nelson, The Decemberists, The Strokes and Arcade Fire.

It’s the latter, the headline act on a Friday evening, that seem to have the most talk about them. For many in America, their 2011 Grammy for album of the year was their introduction to the band, so the audience is a combination of diehard fans, interested newcomers and a huge number of fans who treated the festival like a giant picnic in the sun. A sea of coloured plastic fold up chairs and picnic blankets had filled the huge field by the time the band takes the stage at the early time of around five thirty in the evening. Most of the bands set comes from their latest album and they get the audience on their side from the start opening with ‘Ready to Start.’

‘Keep the Car Running’ is next and is one of only three songs the Canadians perform this evening from Neon Bible. The band seems genuinely happy to be in New Orleans, playing as the sun goes down, and Win proclaims to the crowd that the city is one of the jewels of the world. And he’s right, it’s a remarkable city to hold a festival in; and later before playing ‘Haiti’ he acknowledges the turbulent recent histories of both New Orleans with hurricane Katrina and of Haiti with its devastating earthquake and how the world should be judged by how well these two catastrophes are healed in the course of time.

The title track from The Suburbs is prologued by a short tale about how the song was being written when Win and Régine were traveling from Houston in Texas to New Orleans. An absolute riot of noise announces the beginning of ‘Month of May’ and the band is in full flow rock mode, not a hint of jazz about this performance. With the temperature all weekend not falling below 30 degrees, Win jokes with the crowd about how the next song ‘Tunnels’ is about this ‘white stuff that falls from the sky’ and performs much of the song with his arms folded tight.

He the embraces the festival spirit by briefly climbing down, closer to the crowd over the giant speakers during ‘We Used To Wait.’ Now in a crowd pleasing mood, he mentions the latest basketball scores where the much hated LA Lakers are losing the playoffs to the almost local Dallas team to much cheering from the locals. Claiming that there is always the power of dreams to help a losing team, the band launches into two huge songs to close their set, ‘Power Out’ then ‘Rebellion (Lies)’

The previous evening, State slipped away from Wilco’s headlining set to grab a sneaky, guilty look at Cyndi Lauper on the second stage, where she performed a huge singalong of ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ and tonight for Arcade Fire’s encore they return to the stage with beaming smiles as Cyndi has stayed around to perform an even bigger singalong on the main stage of the same song. Régine and Cyndi then duet perfectly on the very 80’s sounding ‘Sprawl II’, with the two dancing around on stage like overexcited teenagers. The final song of the evening is the epic ‘Wake Up’ which is the perfect way to end another day at this remarkable festival.

If perfect weather, gumbo, frozen daiquiris, jambalaya, strawberry lemonade, culture, art, amazing music, super friendly people aren’t enough to convince more to come to this city, then perfect performances such as this should surely do the trick.

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