For years, the final sets on the Acura Stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival each year have been the musical equivalent of home cooking.
For more than a decade, the Neville Brothers owned one of those slots. But last year and again this year, Trombone Shorty occupied the final Sunday spot, with Arcade Fire preceding him.
When the Montreal-based band first played Jazz Fest in 2011, it seemed like a reach into the unfestlike world of indie rock. Since then, the band’s interest in Haitian rhythms and Creole cultures has aligned with Jazz Fest’s own values, so the band’s return this year seemed less improbable.
“This is one of the last places in America that’s its own place,” said Arcade Fire singer Win Butler, who has developed a relationship with New Orleans and south Louisiana. After the band’s last appearance at Jazz Fest, Butler and his wife, percussionist and keyboard player Regine Chassagne, took a Haitian percussion group to an area studio to record their drummers, and he was in New Orleans on NBA All-Star Game weekend to see the game and play an unannounced DJ set.
The band came onstage to prerecorded percussion mixed with the Dixie Cups’ “Iko Iko,” accompanied by dancers wearing papier-mâché masks of the band members’ heads to play “Here Comes the Night Time.”
The song’s rhythms whipped to life the members already prone to chaotic energy, and they stayed in motion for the 90-minute set.
Like Bruce Springsteen the day before, Arcade Fire filled the stage with a big band, at times 10 members. Many play more than one instrument, and while their energy and exuberant showmanship say they value spirit over precision, they’re more precise than the big gestures and swinging hands would suggest.
Also like Springsteen, Arcade Fire deals with serious stuff.
Butler is interested in the feeling that those growing up today have been cheated by a culture that has found ways to isolate, marginalize and diminish their experience.
The show’s communal spirit, however, added a crucial, uplifting dimension. It’s an element that has made the band a favorite on the festival circuit.
Sunday, there were crucial differences between Arcade Fire and Springsteen, starting with the cultural signifiers. Butler peeled off his jacket after a couple of songs to reveal a Public Enemy baseball jersey, and one of his many guitars bore a sticker from the band’s indie label, Merge.
Band members wore face paint, circus finery, some thrift store finds and a few punky, razor-cut hairdos.
Much of the show’s material came from the band’s last album, “Reflektor,” produced by dance rock maestro James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, and the show never made the album’s synthesis of rock, electronic beats and Haitian drums clearer than during the title cut, with lead vocals shared by Butler and Chassagne.
She’s a good foil for him as her diminutive, unself-conscious presence offers a needed balance for Butler’s earnestness.
During the instrumental end of the song, she danced on her own at the front of the stage, even dancing the bow out of her hair.
The set capped the band’s tour, and it ended when Arcade Fire concluded its time onstage with “Wake Up,” but that wasn’t the end of the show.
Butler and Chassagne then led the band into the crowd, where they were joined by the all-woman Pinettes Brass Band, who played the song’s wordless, sing-along melody as they second-lined into the audience.
Not, like Springsteen, down a precleared path, but out into the people with only a security guard or two to help make a little space. Slowly, they moved out of earshot and out of camera range and disappeared into the festival.