Digging around Ticketmaster recently for information on Arcade Fire’s upcoming tour, I was braced to battle for megavenue nosebleed seats and to shell out $15-plus for mystery “service charges.” But this caveat caught me off-guard:
Please Note: NIGHT OF SHOW: Please wear formal attire or costume.
This directive appears on ticket information pages across the band’s U.S. stops. NME reported that frontman Win Butler told a crowd in “suits, dinner jackets, masks and even full costume” at a London gig earlier this month: “To anyone who felt uncomfortable dressing up—I’m not sorry.” And before a show in Montreal in September, the band tweeted:
Arcade Fire isn’t the first group of rock musicians to impose a dress code. LCD Soundsystem requested fans wear black or white for their final show, Laura Marling told fans to wear black-tie to a special collaborative show, and dressing up for New Year’s Eve or Halloween performances isn’t uncommon. But those aren’t run-of-the-mill tour dates.
And that’s the thing: For most of us, formal attire is reserved for weddings or special nights out. Trying to force otherwise ordinary rock shows into the special category strikes me as presumptuous—an attempt to reinforce the band’s status as capital-A Artists. But Arcade Fire is no longer an indie darling playing intimate general-admission venues: They’re releasing albums that top pop charts and playing arenas named for the likes of Verizon, Pepsi, and Comcast. Asking attendees to dress up might seem to restore an air of specialness to unspecial tour stops at unspecial concrete behemoths that double as ice rinks and basketball courts—but nothing about a routine date in an arena decked out in corporate branding is arty. And demanding that fans old and young scale many flights of steep stairs in ball gowns only to sit in seats possibly soaked with overpriced Bud Light from last night’s hockey game seems less than thoughtful.
Butler and company are known for their earnestness and onstage theatrics—qualities I’ve appreciated in their songs and in live shows at venues both large and small. Nowadays, the band can afford to alienate some fans with requests like their costume mandate—but that doesn’t mean they should. If their music and live shows are good enough, they don’t need fans to play dress-up to make them memorable. And although the dress code surely won’t be enforced (I’d love to see ticket-takers try to turn away attendees whose outfits don’t meet the band’s guidelines for “formal”), it’s still a poor way to repay people for supporting the band’s music.
I haven’t decided if I’ll go to Arcade Fire’s show when the band stops in Washington next year. I love their music, and their past live shows are among the best concerts I’ve seen. But this dress-code gimmick reminds me of Arcade Fire’s graffiti advertising gone wrong from earlier this year. It feels like another misguided attempt by a big band to retain some vestige of their erstwhile smallness. It’s not working.
Update, Nov. 21: Arcade Fire has responded with a statement on their Facebook page.
To everyone really upset about us asking people to dress up at our shows… please relax. It’s super not mandatory. It just makes for a more fun carnival when we are all in it together. So far these have been the best shows we have ever played.
See you soon.