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last night's gig

Arcade Fire at Madison Square Garden: Who Needs LeBron?

Forget LeBron and the dream of New Yorkers screaming as he crashes backboards and cashes endorsement checks. Last night, Arcade Fire torched Madison Square Garden, almost overstuffing the arena with sound — as thousands clapped on command, belted out lyrics, and eventually screamed in horror as Win Butler taunted the locals, pointing out his "favorite spot," where Hakeem Olajuwon blocked the Knicks' John Starks in game six of the 1994 finals. (As a commenter points out below, Butler faked his sports knowledge: the block happened in Houston. But this didn't detract from the vicious version of "Neighborhood #3 [Power Out]" that followed.) Last night, like Starks, fans got posterized. This may be as close as MSG will get to championship euphoria for a long time.

Arcade Fire crony Owen Pallett started things off with looping, atmospheric violins, as if consecrating the space. Opening act Spoon delivered an expert set — heavy on favorites like "Don't Make Me a Target" and "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" — but couldn't help but seem a bit dwarfed by the daunting acoustics. Arcade Fire, on the other hand, filled the stage with nine musicians, swapped instruments at will, banged on handheld drums with sticks and open palms, twirled, stomped, bounced, and danced — giving their complex, precise arrangements an almost ridiculous sense of wildness. Régine Chassagne, spinning in a dress made of what appeared to be shredded weather-balloons and at one point twirling ribbons like a psychedelic gymnast, seemed to play every instrument on the stage — both drum sets, accordion, whatever was handy.

Sure, the energy level flagged slightly during a few of the new songs off The Suburbs, but that's to be expected: All things being equal, everything's more exciting with 20,000 fans screaming out every word. But the band hardly eased into the new material, kicking off the show with the hard-banging blast "Ready to Start." Eight of the set's eighteen songs were off The Suburbs, and almost every one sounded bigger and bolder than it does on the album. The hard-driving "Month of May" was a straightforward attack of angry chords toward the end of a complex set; the deliberate "Rococco" swelled to fill the space. The band even had the courage to wedge their new song "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" into a three-song encore, between Neon Bible's "Keep the Car Running" and Funeral's "Wake Up." Even though everyone knew that last anthem was coming, it didn't stop anyone from swaying and screaming in unison, making MSG feel more tabernacle than Cablevision sports arena.

Photo: Cory Schwartz/Getty Images