Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Arcade Fire in Concert

Last night I saw the Arcade Fire in concert at the Maurice Richard Arena in East Montreal. If you have never seen them in concert, it’s a must. Their reputation as show-stoppers precedes them wherever they go, but they lived up to my higher-than-usual expectations.

After waiting in line for nearly an hour to pick up our tickets, we snaked into the arena and skipped a security check to get down on the floor in general admission. This was a brilliant move, as the heat and energy on the arena floor rose and fell with Arcade Fire’s rolling performance.

I can’t say what I enjoyed most. Maybe it was Régine Chassagne’s haunting vocals on The Backseat or Haiti, or her whirling energy on-stage, as she ran from place to place, playing the accordion, two different types of drums, the tambourine, the organ, and the electric piano, as well as lead and backup vocals. She was a sight to see on stage, decked out in her long black dress, never far from the action. And then there was lead man Win Butler, in his old-school suspenders, pinstripes and high-hanging pants, commanding my attention through his larger-than-life presence on stage. While he didn’t hit all the high notes-he did after all have throat surgery recently- he more than made up for it through his steady power guitar and his lilting mandolin. I’d really like to hear what the two of them talk about in their matrimonial bliss.

As for the rest of the AF crew, what can one say? Going to an Arcade Fire show is less about listening than it is about seeing, if that's even possible for a band with such a full sound. All ten band members bring something unique to the stage and can captivate you during any one song. In addition to this, they had cameras set up around the stage filming, and then beaming onto five circular screens surrounding them, showing the AF from a bunch of surreal angles and in a type of slow-motion black and white, reminiscent of the 1950s. It was divine.

The one disappointment was the crowd. I expected to come to Montreal and be buoyed by the hometown crowd, but instead I was left wondering where Montreal’s joie de vivre had gone. One possible explanation is that in trying to keep up with the frantic moves onstage, people sort of get lulled into a near comatose-like state. Or everyone was right high. I don’t buy either though. Next time, I hope the energy of the crowd matches that of the Arcade Fire onstage.

The exception, and the moment I'll probably remember most vividly in concerts to come, was once they played Rebellion (Lies), the last song of the set. After giving the AF an ovation, the crowd, I think it started in the stands, began to chant the melody from Lies, and it slowly built up, up, up, until after five minutes, it came to a crescendo, I'd say almost all 4,000 people were chanting together, badly yes, but chanting nonetheless. It was one of those spine-tingling moments that only come around every so often, memorable in its organic intensity. Magical. Of course, the AF came back to play Ocean of Noise and Keep the Car Running, but it no longer mattered, the moving moment had come and gone.