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Arcade Fire’s masterful album marketing, concert promo case study

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Arcade Fire performed at Capital Studios in Los Angeles October 28 to a small group of super fans and industry execs one evening prior to Reflektor officially releasing in the U.S. This abbreviated show, live-audio streamed by NPR Music, provided the first soundboard quality mix to listeners that haven’t been lucky enough to see Arcade Fire (or The Reflektors) in Montreal, Brooklyn, Miami or at the Bridge School Benefit. Sure, the Bridge School Benefit show was video webcasted, but only three songs from Reflektor received the stripped down, acoustic treatment that is customary at Neil Young’s yearly gathering this past weekend.

The performance Monday night provided further proof that Arcade Fire are the band of a generation, both in a live and studio context; the chamber pop group arrived overnight in 2004 and has consistently impressed with their frenzied live show, improving with each tour. This 10-song performance Monday solidifies they are a group driven by progression and an evolving sound — they will only get more quintessential with time as they sell out arenas and headline festivals throughout 2014.

Arcade Fire’s ingenious marketing campaign is a case study in using a band’s strength of performing live to help promote and encourage the purchasing of a new album. First, Reflektor street art started appearing in metropolitan areas all over the world in August. An interactive video arrived for “Reflektor” in September, integrating the viewer into the “It’s just a reflektor!” peak of the song. Then mysterious posters appeared in Montreal, then again in New York & Miami, promoting shows by “The Reflektors”. By touring in small spaces throughout the slow burning process of releasing previews and snippets of virtually every song on the album, the buzz has never slowed down. These intimate shows served as warm ups gigs for the band, and a genius marketing tool. If you pre-ordered the album, you received a code that gives you priority tickets to an Arcade Fire show in the next year. (I wonder if they will offer early access for Coachella through their website?)

Then “Afterlife”, “Here Comes The Night Time”, “We Exist” and “Normal People” premiered on Saturday Night Live and a concert-based feature, and some songs were reinforced on The Colbert Report. The day the album leaked last Thursday, Arcade Fire had the entire album streaming on YouTube within four hours, stemming the digital thievery by offering something better. They synced Reflektor and the album’s lyrics with the 1959 film Black Orpheus à la “Dark Side of Oz”, and it was nothing short of mesmerizing before it was pulled (“Afterlife” is still available below). And on the day of Reflektor‘s release (October 29), Arcade Fire has chosen to make available a live recording of an incredible performance from the night before (view it above).

It all signifies Arcade Fire are a group of innovators, bucking trends and norms through new angles of marketing and incentives. But more importantly, Reflektor is a classic record because it showcases a band that has improved sonically while developing more effective, vital lyricism.

The overt theme in Arcade Fire’s fourth album is life after death, most notably in “Afterlife”, “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)”, and “Reflektor”. Win Butler has referred to Reflektor as “a mash up of Studio 54 and Haitian voodoo,” and it is clear the band’s trip to Haiti two years ago heavily impacted the group. Members of the group connected with local Haitians through traditional rara, the additional drumming the group has brought with them to the studio and on tour. Régine Chassagne draws her lineage from the Caribbean island — the place has been an influence and rallying point for the group since they featured “Haiti” toward the end of Funeral. Many parts of Haiti the country have been stricken by disease and squalor since the horrific earthquake in 2010. Then add the cultural layer of Haitian voodoo into the mix, which revolves around connecting with and brining people back from the dead, and the source of the storytelling and lyricism of Reflektor begins to come into focus.

More important than wondering what happens after the inevitability of death, the meat of Reflektor harnesses the idea of dancing, celebrating and embracing the best moments of life. “Here Comes the Night Time”, one of the best songs on the record, creates a divide then asks a semi-hypothetical question:

They say heaven’s a place and they know where it is. But you know where it is? It’s behind a gate that won’t let you in. And when they hear the beat coming from the street, they lock the door. But if there’s no music up in heaven than what’s it for?

This multi-tempo sequence might be the part of Reflektor that resonates strongest with many Arcade Fire fans. The payoff line “When you look in the sky, just try looking inside, God knows what you might find…” leaves no room for ambiguousness. In a less obtrusive way than Neon Bible, Butler and Company are still pleading for people to think for themselves.

When Win Butler greeted the audience by literally saying hello to “liberal America” via the NPR webcast, he clearly continued a common Arcade Fire thread that has existed since the beginning, the idea of Us versus Them. This ever-present theme is inert within Arcade Fire, and it was most notably projected through Butler’s introduction of “Normal Person” Monday night in Hollywood (Listen at 41:01 at the top of the page):

Thank you liberal america, to all the blue states, and all the gay people stuck living in Atlanta, and all the parts of everywhere you believe people should be able to marry whoever they want, and if you get sick it’s ok if we all pitch in.

Arcade Fire clearly want to use their influence to keep pushing what they believe in, which is frankly inspiring and fearless. These are the qualities that exist in a group that defines a generation — Arcade Fire aren’t merely reacting to contemporary social issues, they are engaging and driving the conversation.

When it comes to the sound Arcade Fire has developed with Reflektor, and understanding the impact of James Murphy’s production assistance, it’s not so sad anymore that Murphy retired LCD Soundsystem. He did quip in Shut Up And Play The Hits that one of his reasons for retiring his band revolved around not being able to produce an Arcade Fire record because he was on tour. James Murphy ‘the producer’ could leave a bigger impact than James Murphy ‘the artist’ in the end. His fingerprints are all over one of the best records of 2013 — the tempo changes in “Here Comes the Night Time” to the disco groove in “We Exist” smell like they were concocted in DFA’s Brooklyn studios.

The setlist from the performance in LA Monday night is pretty much what Reflektor would look like had it been a singular record (except “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” was left out. I don’t care what anyone says, that song is incredible.) A wonderful tribute to the late Lou Reed bookended a sparkling “Supersymmetry”, starting the song with “Perfect Day” and splicing in “Satellite of Love” in toward the end. This is, in fact, a must listen (around 17:10 in the top video). “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” begins with a fast paced, crunchy dance beat that heightens the live version right away. Massive reverb is placed on the line “If there’s no music in heaven, than what’s it for?” in “Here Comes the Night Time”, announcing that this part of the song deserves extra attention. For the first time on this tour, it appears they are not ending with “Wake Up” for the first time, another signifier the group is moving forward artistically. There are many added texture layers throughout this performance that are absent from Reflektor that simply enhance the music, elevating Arcade Fire to the level of “better live”, not to take away from Reflektor in any way.

SETLIST
Reflecktor
Flashbulb Eyes
Afterlife
Supersymmetry (Lou Reed — “Perfect Day” intro, “Satellite of Love” outro)
It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)
We Exist
You Already Know
Normal Person
Here Comes The Night Time

ENCORE
Sprawl II

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