Monday, June 14th, 2010
Ready To Start
Arcade Fire at The Music Hall in Toronto
Frank Yang“Thanks for coming out on such short notice.” It was hard to tell if Win Butler was smirking when he said this, midway through the first night of Arcade Fire’s surprise two-night stand at the Music Hall in Toronto this past Friday night. After all, they had given the city just over 48 hours notice that these performances would be happening – though they did offer teasers throughout the week – prompting a mad scramble of canceled plans and fake sick days so that fans could line up for the one-per-person admission wristbands that only went on sale the day of the show.
It was the latest in a series of warm-up shows for the band, starting last week with a private house show in Montreal, through a couple of theatre shows in Sherbrooke, Quebec and a free parking lot performance in Longueuil, all serving to get the band back in game shape and build anticipation for their third album The Suburbs, due out August 3. Of course, accomplishing the latter didn’t require much effort on the band’s part save to announce that the record actually existed – since wrapping up their tours in support of 2007’s Neon Bible, the Montrealers have done remarkably well at keeping out of the public eye and secretive about what they’d be doing next and when.
The need for a retreat following Neon Bible was understandable. It was a tremendously heavy record, both from the weight of expectations as the follow-up to the universally-praised Funeral and its thematic burdens, being informed by the very height (or depths) or the Bush years. The resulting combination of ambition, angst and anxiety made for an album that tried to be grander than its predecessor and while it had more than its share of moments, ultimately came feeling insular and leaden and a relative disappointment. So while the first samples of The Suburbs that were released a couple of weeks ago didn’t immediately induct themselves into the Arcade Fire songbook hall of fame, they did seem to indicate that the band were taking a looser, more spontaneous approach to their songwriting – certainly a good start.
Which brings us back to Friday night and a familiar band in a familiar setting. It was at this same Music Hall on the Danforth that the Arcade Fire played a now-legendary three-night stand just over half a decade ago, and their first time back since their two nights at Massey Hall in May 2007. But rather than fill the bill with warm-up acts that would become huge themselves, this time out it was just Arcade Fire… and a thousand people who’d been waiting a long time to see them again. And at 8:30PM sharp, there was the roar of the audience as the band took the stage, the whoosh of seats being evacuated as the audience rushed the stage and the sound of Arcade Fire breaking into the aptly-named new composition “Ready To Start”… and we were off.
Though the 90-minute set would be heavily loaded with new material, it was well-sequenced to keep interest and energy up – the atmosphere was electric for the propulsive opener and then the even more driving (and familar via the single) “Month Of May”, but with the familiar opening chords of “Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)”, the crowd found another level of freak out. And so the show went – a brace of new songs and then a handful of classics, providing ample opportunity to compare and contrast the songs that will comprise The Suburbs with the old stuff. What I noticed most about the new material was that it felt less epic in scale, but deliberately so – as though they decided in writing that constantly trying to outdo themselves was the wrong way to go. The songs were more focused on finding a groove and riding that rather than attempting to jump the tracks at a certain point to grab sky, and had a more classic rock vibe about them – don’t expect the Springsteen comparisons that cropped up with the last record to go away. The lack of the big, anthemic moments might have disappointed some, but it really did feel as though the band had unclenched and were feeling more comfortable in themselves – it’s probably not a coincidence that Neon Bible‘s black uniform stage garb had been traded in for something in a lighter shade of blue. And while there were some obvious standouts in the new stuff – both “Modern Man” and “Rococo” had people in the audience looking at each other and nodding, “yes” – odds are The Suburbs will end up being a grower, and in the long run I think that’ll be for the best.
Time will tell how much truth there is in that statement, but what is not up for debate is that the show came to a head with what has always been and always shall be their coup de grace, their finishing move – the back-to-back body blows of “Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)” and “Rebellion (Lies)”. All the momentum that had intensifying up through the night, all the energy that had been pent up since the band finished touring Neon Bible, all the anticipation that had been building since their last Toronto show, came to a head with that finale and simply exploded, with the shockwaves carrying through the encore of “Keep The Car Running” and, of course, “Wake Up”. Though the song implies beginnings, here it was a fitting ending to the night. That Arcade Fire are a great band and an important band is not in question, but time away can dim the memory; this show was an intense and extraordinary reminder of why.
Photos: Arcade Fire @ The Music Hall – June 11, 2010
MP3: Arcade Fire – “Keep The Car Running”
MP3: Arcade Fire – “Black Mirror”
MP3: Arcade Fire – “No Cars Go”
MP3: Arcade Fire – “Wake Up”
Video: Arcade Fire – “Neon Bible”
Video: Arcade Fire – “Black Mirror”
Video: Arcade Fire – “Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)”
Video: Arcade Fire – “Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)”
Video: Arcade Fire – “Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)”
Video: Arcade Fire – “Rebellion (Lies)”
MySpace: Arcade Fire
Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning Chart engages in some trash talk with Olympic gold medalist rower Adam Van Koeverden in advance of their charity soccer game during NXNE which pits musicians against pretty much everyone else in support of Right To Play. Broken play the Toronto Islands the day before, June 19.
Stream: Stars / The Five Ghosts
The Ottawa Sun interviews The Balconies, who are playing the top of the CN Tower on Wednesday night for NXNE and then on Saturday night in the Distillery District as part of the Wine & Spirit Festival. The former is invite-only but the latter is free to all.