It was the refrain that set up the first thrilling moment in Arcade Fire's concert Sunday night in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, it was also a lyric that rang out with all kinds of extra meaning.
"Please don't quit on me / I won't quit on you."
Win Butler and his wife, Régine Chassagne — the leaders of the big-chorus/big-drama Canadian rock troupe — traded those lines over and over with tender desperation Sunday before a big uptick in volume, tempo and energy in the new song "The Lightning I."
The musical couple could have been singing those words to each other, after their marriage fell under scrutiny in August. That's when the music news site Pitchfork reported detailed accounts accusing Butler, 42, of sexual misconduct from four young women. (He said the encounters were all consensual, and his wife knew about them; including one with an 18-year-old, whose age he said he googled to make sure.)
Butler and Chassagne also could have been singing the "don't quit on me" refrain as a plea to the 6,000 or so Minnesota fans who turned out to see them at the Armory despite those reports.
Many other fans clearly had already quit on the band. An abundance of the $57 tickets that went on sale in May were selling for as low as $6 on resale sites in recent days. Tour promoter Live Nation declined refunds even after Beck, the scheduled opener, dropped off the tour for unspecified (but hardly unclear) reasons.
Beck's replacement, veteran Haitian band Boukman Eksperyans, offered a fascinatingly funky and exotic blend of Afrobeat, reggae and psychedelic rock that certainly made for a good consolation.
Arcade Fire's performance also fully rewarded the people who did show up (nearly half of whom were women). Unlike the similarly canceled Americana rocker Ryan Adams — who played to many empty seats at the State Theatre last month — Butler's crew has been a consistently superb live band for 18 years, which may explain the still-decent turnout.
Sunday's show was one of the band's best yet in town, too. Emphasis on "band."
Almost from the get-go, the eight other members on stage Sunday besides the principal singer and songwriter got ample time in the spotlight.
In the second song, "Ready to Start," the video screens showed close-up shots of Chassagne banging a drum, and other members excitedly handling their instruments. A song later, Chassagne ran out to the smaller B-stage at the center of the venue to sing lead vocals and dance under a mirrored ball to the disco-y romp "It's Never Over (Hey Orpheus)." She would do the same later in the set during "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," the emotional highlight of the night.
Other songs throughout the nearly two-hour set were stretched out to emphasize the group effort, including the funkified "Reflektor" and the march-paced pre-encore finale "Everything Now."
"The Lightning I" was one of several tunes off Arcade Fire's new record, "We," that sparked big reactions. Others included the Roger Waters-y epic "End of the Empire I-III" and "Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)," the latter of which was buoyed further by dancing inflatable men of the used-car-lot variety.
It really seemed like they were pulling out all the stops to deemphasize Butler, who said nothing on stage remotely related to the news surrounding him.
Instead, the frontman rightfully talked up the band's charity KANPE (providing relief to Haiti, where Chassagne has family). He also raved about Minneapolis being "a holy city for musicians" after he strummed through a few verses of Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me;" maybe not the best title to pick under the circumstances.
As the band finished with its usual big finish, "Wake Up," on the smaller stage, the audience became as excited, enraptured and enlightened as "Born to Run" in a Springsteen show. It would be sad to lose that kind of rarefied communal experience should Arcade Fire quit touring after this troubled trek. That isn't to say it shouldn't.