The buzz event of this week has been Arcade Fire’s three-night stand at the Danforth Music Hall. It’s like, “Which night are you going?” has become a perfectly acceptable conversation opener around the water cooler or McDonalds drive-thru. Though last night’s show was the first announced and first to sell out, Tuesday’s show was the first to happen, though it was the last of the three to be announced and obviously attended only by layabouts and lollygaggers who weren’t keen enough to get tickets to last night’s show. Meaning what? I do not know.
Arriving about 10 minutes before doors, the queue which stretched around the block thankfully moved quickly enough for us to get decent seats about 2/3 of the way back. We got settled in just in time to see the first opener – local boy Owen Pallett, aka Final Fantasy. When someone asks many years from now what the most important technological advance in music perfomance was in the first part of the 21st century, the answer will probably be the looper pedal. I’ve seen a number of performers use those doodads masterfully, and Final Fantasy is no exception. Stacking layers of violin on top of one another to create a mini symphony and singing over top, Pallett played a short but mesmerizing set of lovely chamber pop songs, closing off wht guests Jeremy and Regine from the Arcade Fire and Gentleman Reg helping out on a cover of Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy”. Final Fantasy has been quite the buzz around town for a while now but this was my first time taking in the experience, and I get what everyone is going on about.
Next up was Montreal’s Wolf Parade, who had the dubious distinction of being the most conventional-sounding act on the bill. With Arcade Fire’s Tim Kingsbury pinch-hitting on bass and guitar for the shorthanded band, I actually started off being rather annoyed by them but was surprised to find myself won over with each subsequent song. Reminiscent of The Walkmen or Franz Ferdinand, their dancey, jagged sound is very much in the now but quite catchy and energetic. They only played an abbreviated set but probably won over a good portion of the crowd.
Their last time through town, Arcade Fire nearly demolished Lee’s Palace and left a sea of dazed converts in their wake. This time, they faced the somewhat unenviable task of trying to match, let alone top that performance and in a word, they didn’t. It’s probably unfair to judge one gig against another, but coming just seven months apart, it’s unavoidable (hell, anyone going to all three nights this week would certainly be doing the same). This shouldn’t be construed as some sort of complaint, though – I mean how many times can you expect a band to change your life? Anyway, I’ll try to put that aside and just discuss last night’s show on its own merits. All I’m saying is that like it or not, the conscious or unconscious comparisons will be going on in your skull. Or mine, at least.
Beyond the whole “you can’t experience something for the first time again” syndrome, there were quantifiable reasons I felt this way. For the first part of the show, the performance seemed to lack the visceral impact that makes their live shows so exciting. Maybe it was the larger room but the sound – particularly the drums – didn’t have the same body-blow impact as at Lee’s (whoops). It was a much more polite mix. It also seemed the band wasn’t quite connecting with the audience for that essential energy feedback loop. I mean, it was good and all but I wasn’t feeling that certain je ne sais quoi as they powered through much of Funeral, some material from the demo EP and the excellent new tune “Intervention”.
But then something happaned about 2/3 of the way through the set, with “Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)” leading straight into “Rebellion (Lies)”. The band, playing as a 9- or 10-piece, depending, found that next gear, took into the stratosphere and didn’t come back down for the rest of the night. The remainder of the show was nothing less than sublime, including the encore of “Wake Up” where Win brought a good portion of the audience onstage to sing, stand around and otherwise feel cooler than those of use still on the floor. Onstage with Lord only knows how many fans surrounding him, Win looked like a preacher with his flock at some southern Baptist revival. He then climbed into the audience, nearly fell over top of me and ran off through the crowd to points unknown. While the encore and the show on the whole was a little short (the Tuesday night show got two or three encores, reports vary), it would have been tough to top that finale and I don’t think anyone left disappointed.
It’s funny that everyone stayed nicely in their seats until Wolf Parade’s set – someone must have noticed Win Butler standing up at the front because everyone then flooded up to the front of the stage. I joined in (baaa) and got close enough to take some decent pictures with only a nominal number of crowd heads in the shots. There’s not a whole helluva lot you can do compositionally from the distance I was at, and I had to wait for the lighting to turn favourable, but I got a better set together than I’d expected. No complaints.
So with three sold-out nights at a 1250-capacity venue, I have to wonder where the Arcade Fire will go from here. Larger venues would seem necessary unless they’re willing to continue doing three- to five-night stands in the city, but there’s really no concert halls larger than the Danforth that would come with either a significant increase in ticket price, significant decrease in vibe (imagine them in the Kool Haus, yuck!) and much complaining from the indie faithful in either case. It’s a tough spot to be in, that’s for sure, and I hope someone else is more imaginative than me in thinking of a solution.
Billboard reports that Bob Mould has enlisted Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty and former Sugar bassist and accomplice Dave Barbe for his touring band this Fall in support of Body Of Song, out July 26. I’m quite happy to see Bob has returned to more conventional guitar-based compositions – I would never begrudge an artist for trying new avenues of expression, but Loudbomb? No thanks. Clever anagram, though. Update: Thanks to Frank in Atlanta for clarifying that while Barbe does play on Body Of Song, he is NOT touring with Bob. Note to self – read the damn articles next time.
UK glam psych rockers The Coral are at the Mod Club June 7 and Martha Wainwright is there a couple days later on June 9.
NOW chronicles the fall of 20Hz and rise of Stille Post. Probably of interest to Torontonians only.
np – Bob Dylan / Nashville Skyline