Sunday, August 15, 2010

Arcade Fire - Island concert, Aug. 14, 2010

The show included a large screen that alternated between stock footage-like clips and a live stream of the band performing.
They heard me singing and they told me to stop,
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.
-"Spawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"
 The Arcade Fire are one of those bands who you just know are going to be electric in a live setting; you won't be able to take your eyes off them. I knew this the moment they finished their performance at the 2005 MuchMusic Video Awards. They played "Rebellion (Lies)" off of their debut album, Funeral. At the time I think I had only heard that song and thought it was pretty good, but hadn't really gotten to know the rest of their music. It was then that I realized the true potential of a live performance. You could almost credit that one performance - which I watched in my basement of my family home as it played live on MuchMusic - with my so-called musical awakening, transitioning out of high school pop to the world of indie rock in university. (What can I say? Everyone has to have one.) It was frantic and magnetic - the group had a certain aura around them that was completely different from the usual false sincerity of the "for-the-fans" MMVA's. It was like they may have been there physically, but their sound was on another planet from a lot of the other musicians present that night. After the performance when the band was walking backstage, lead singer Win Butler took his guitar and smashed a light just above a door leading back inside the MuchMusic building. It was a childish gesture (like rock stars smashing their $600 Les Paul on stage at the end of a concert, or destroying a hotel room just because they can), but at least it wasn't contrived to be anything other than expression of elation. It clicked something together in my head and I realized that there were other sounds out in the world that I needed to open my ears to.

So when I saw that they were going back on tour after so many years away, I knew I would be there to experience that thrill again, but in person this time. I've gotta say, I was not let down. It seems counter-intuitive, but most bands won't play all of their best songs; they'll play a few, but never a full set. With Arcade Fire it was like they knew exactly what I wanted to hear and had no problem whatsoever accommodating my requests. At one turn there was "Ready To Start" from their recent release, Suburbs, then "Neighborhood #2 (Laïka)" (Funeral), later "Rococo" and "The Suburbs" (both Suburbs) back to back. It went on with "Intervention" (Neon Bible), "Crown Of Love",  "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)", "Rebellion (Lies)", and "Wake Up" (all Funeral) to end the encore - and I've skipped a bunch of other notables. Of course, it's hard to pick out an Arcade Fire song that isn't one of their best, so they have an unfair advantage over other bands. The only one they missed out on was Neon Bible's "My Body Is a Cage," which would have been a mesmerizing experience, to say the least. Next time, hopefully.

While the music was tight and controlled (I was surprised at how well balanced all of the different instruments were; the strings were never overwhelmed and the keyboards rose above the guitar whenever it needed to), the energy was bursting off the stage into the not-quite-sold-out crowd. Everyone on stage was giving everything they had to the performance, and that's probably why The Arcade Fire are well-known as one of the best live bands around. I don't see that energy fading anytime soon.

Janelle Monáe cuts a mean funky swath across the stage with a couple of backup dancers and her well-coordinated band.

I should also mention that the openers The Sadies and Janelle Monáe were stellar. The Sadies are a Toronto institution (and proved why with their slick guitar solos and keen handle of their sound), but newcomer Monáe blasted the roof off of this open-air venue. She's really something to see live, and I can only see her getting better as her catalogue grows.

I guess my only complaint is that I would have liked more. I could have listened for hours longer. I generally get pretty tired at around the midway point of a long concert like this one, but here I was still swaying along to "Wake Up" long after the stage went dark.

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