The Arcade Fire’s first full length, Funeral, reached its height at the same time that the rest of the world started asking themselves, “What is Paul Martin putting in the water?” about Canadian music. Good old 2004. The band exploded the already healthy and somewhat envied Montreal music scene wide open on to the rest of the country and continent. Their sophomore album Neon Bible was much anticipated, though shrouded in mystery, as front-couple Win Butler and RÃ©gine Chassagne seemed to disappear deep into the Quebec winter while their band mates appeared in other increasingly successful projects in the likes of Final Fantasy and Bell Orchestre. This proceeding album was impressive and well received, though as one friend of mine quipped this week, it got ‘put into a pile with all the other bands I liked that had rediscovered Springsteen that year.’ And then it just stopped. It has been three years since Neon Bible, and I had all but convinced myself that the Butlers and Co. had finally retreated into the indefinite hermitdom that all musical wunderkinds are capable of.
When they were announced as headliners at Montreal’s Osheaga festival in late July I was ready to go as far as it took, if only to see them in a sweaty, irritating outdoor festival, maybe still during sunlight hours. When I was offered the chance to see AF in my own beloved Toronto, at one of the best venues we have to offer, it seemed like a cake walk. Arcade Fire at the Danforth Music Hall was worth every penny of the mere $40 it cost for a wristband, and worth every minute and cigarette consumed in the 2 hour wait in line to procure it.
The new songs will slay you. If you haven’t already found your ears to the relatively unannounced singles ‘Month of May’ and ‘The Suburbs’, you should (below!). The latter, which shares titles with the upcoming release, is a meandering swing song that will keep all the indie darlings slow-dancing. The former echoes the punk reemergence that many bands are grasping at this year. I left the show foreseeing the ghostly ‘Rococo’ (video below) as my favourite from the new album. The song perfectly encapsulates AF’s unreal talent at instrumentation, an inner torment that lies beneath most of their songs, and their knack at leaving you with crazy dreams. This was only heightened by the venue’s etherealness. Danforth Music Hall is the perfect home for the Arcade Fire. A cinema that is decrepit in all the right places, it echoes the band’s sound and aesthetic: a vintage elegance caught at the most beautiful moment of its decomposition.
Live, the newest songs sounded impeccable and tour-ready. The new album will be as strong, if not stronger, than their first. Its songs are individually quirky and well constructed, and even through the zigzagging of a live set list they compliment each other in a similar way to the diverse songs off of Funeral.
The crowd pleasers were inevitably ‘Wake Up’, ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)’ (heavy on the xylophone) and an encore rendition of ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ featuring Will Butler running laps around the stage until the song was over. ‘HaÃ¯ti’ was breathtaking. Regine sang to her homeland with a beautiful, tangible and renewed mournfulness. Her performance all night shined, in particular on lead accordion tearing up ‘No Cars Go’, and bouncing back and forth between keys and the band’s second drum set. And the kids! They were dancing! It was sweaty! I was proud of Toronto for holding it down and rising above-and-beyond the ‘cross-armed head nod’, especially when they were seeing a band of immense proportions so close to their faces.
I think that was just it. Commenting after the show, my friend noted that the Arcade Fire could probably have rocked us pretty hard on their upcoming Osheaga or Olympic Island festival shows, but it was the combination of such a far-reaching band in a venue that was on the brink of no longer containing them that made the nights at the Music Hall right. It was the power of a band that had developed to greatness and had come back to share it with a few hundred people. It drew us all in. I didn’t look away from the stage for a moment and I dare you to have even tried.
Arcade Fire’s third album ‘The Suburbs’ drops August 2nd in the UK and August 3rd in the US and Canada.[audio:Arcade Fire – The Suburbs.mp3]
Month of May
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
City With No Children
No Cars Go
We Used to Wait
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Ready to Start
– Encore –