Comparatively speaking, I may have been wearing the baggiest jeans in the building Thursday night when Arcade Fire came to town. Nearly 6,000 people–including more than a few hipsters–showed up at the MTS Centre to see a Canadian indie band that barely filled the Burton Cummings Theatre just a few years earlier. As the crowd size testified, it’s clear that Arcade Fire is on their way up in the music industry (yet, in terms of the business side of the industry, still happily very much on the fringes).
I would have loved to see them play the Burt again. It’s my favourite concert venue. But against my expectations, the larger venue they played on Thursday worked quite well. The upper bowl and end sections were curtained off and the stage was moved a little closer to the centre of the floor, which gave the place a slightly smaller feel. Plus, with eight members and constant instrument-swapping mayhem, Arcade Fire can quite easily fill up a room, even one as large as the MTS Centre. On top of that, I had great seats thirty feet from the band.
The evening started off with Calexico warming up the crowd with a tight set of their Mexican-flavoured folk-rock. I really liked these guys, though I’d never heard their music before. Their vocalist reminded me a bit of a late-1960s Bob Dylan, and they had some inventive instrumentation. A good choice to open up for Arcade Fire. After their set ended, I noticed their merch stand was busy with people buying CDs.
At 8:45 Arcade Fire took the stage. Speaking of the stage, it carried on the motif of The Suburbs artwork. (If I could figure out how to get photos off my cell phone and onto my computer, I would show you a picture.) The stage featured a video screen designed to look like a highway billboard, and a large painted backdrop featured an image of a freeway overpass. I couldn’t help thinking of Winnipeg’s own suburbs, which we drove past on the way to the show.
The band launched into “Ready to Start,” which is a great upbeat opener. By the time they were halfway into their second song, “Month of May,” they had already amassed the most energy I’d ever seen in a live band. It was incredible. The room felt charged with electricity–8 minutes into the show! There’s something truly cathartic about Arcade Fire’s music. Seeing them live is a freeing, participatory, inhibition-melting experience. My friends and I found ourselves more into the show than we expected. The music and lyrics caught everyone up in something bigger than themselves.
Midway through the set, Calexico’s two trumpet players came out and joined Arcade Fire for “Ocean of Noise,” which apparently is rarely heard live. The show progressed with a great set list that featured great material from all three albums (though I was hoping to hear “The Well and the Lighthouse”). The Free Press reported that “no two songs ever featured the same instrumentation,” and they’re right. For instance, the band brought out a big drum for “Wake Up,” used shakers, a xylophones, an organ, two drumkits, and a megaphone taped to a microphone. Add to that the fact that the band members are constantly switching instruments with each other, and you’ve got one great live show. By the time they launched into “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” the crowd was drowning out their vocals. I will definitely jump at any chance I have to see them again.
Here’s the set list.
- Ready to Start
- Month of May
- Keep the Car Running
- Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
- No Cars Go
- Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
- Half Light II (No Celebration)
- The Suburbs
- Ocean of Noise
- Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
- We Used to Wait
- Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
- Rebellion (Lies)
- Intervention [encore]
- Modern Man [encore]
- Wake Up [encore]