Riff Review: Arcade Fire Lights Up Toronto
Life for music fans could be a whole lot easier if they stopped over-analyzing Arcade Fire. Because, really, all that needs to be said is that they’re an incredible collective that has figured out that perfect balance between what type of artistic expression makes senses to them; how to turn it into an experience; how to bring fans into that; and subsequently, humbly, share the adulation.
Last night at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, the band – which appeared to be at least 12, maybe 15 members strong – magically made a hockey rink and basketball court feel like the biggest house party spot you’ve ever partied within. The once-maligned wardrobe/costume request Arcade Fire issued after announcing the tour only added to the element of everyone in the room being in this together. For the first time in a long while, I felt as if I was at show where everyone felt united.
As the lights dimmed shortly before 9pm, a shiny figure emerged from the side of the main stage. When he came more into view, what could be seen was a man draped in a costume filled with mirrors. The lights shined upon him, and thus, he became Reflektor Man. As eyes rushed to that figure as he strolled carefully to a small stage located at the other end of the floor, band focal points Win Butler and Régine Chassagne quietly emerged from a side entrance. The diversion worked.
Once the crowd came to, so did the first song of the night: the mighty “My Body is a Cage.” Performed about as stripped down as it could get, Butler commanded the crowd early. As his voice rose to signal the big instrumental earthquake of the song from the main stage, a curveball was thrown: the curtain popped up and the army that was Arcade Fire instead kicked into the very groove-able “Reflektor.”
“Neigbourhood #3 (Power Out)” would soon seamlessly roll into “Rebellion (Lies),” from the much-acclaimed Funeral album. Eventually the group – which at times set three drummers loose upon the stage, along with organs, a violin, and whatever other instruments the band knows more about than me – would rip through incredible renditions of the subdued yet beautiful track “The Suburbs,” and quick roller, “Ready to Start.”
As Arcade Fire did its best to balance their set, the island/dance music influence that appears on Reflektor did find its way into older cuts. Instead of this bastardizing their feel, these added elements turned these songs in excellent new directions.
Speaking of the Reflektor tracks, they dominated the set. It’s often easy for people to bitch about a band’s show being new album-heavy, but on this, Arcade Fire’s first true arena tour, the opposite occurred – it made the show way more fun than I could’ve imagined.
The thick Michael Jackson-esque bass line on “We Exist,” seductively pummeled its way through the room, while “Joan of Arc” and “Here Comes the Night Time” kept the crowd bouncing, twisting, convulsing, and dancing in the awkward ways that only indie rock kids can.
“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” superbly rounded out the set, and mailed home the fact that the whole evening had been not just sonically spectacular, but visually spectacular as well. As the Reflektor title would suggest, weird light effects would dominate the production, as well as this giant mirrored stage piece that would at times hang atop the band.
Heading into the encore, Arcade Fire was joined by a very special guest: Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford. Scratch that, he was too busy being that “average guy” to attend, so instead out came a heavier-set man wearing a four-screen box TV around his head, which featured a short video snippet of the Mayor being the Mayor. He would stand beside Butler, tambourine in hand, as the band hammered through perhaps the most thriving punk song they got, “Normal Person.”
As hoped for, the evening closed with a magnificent version of “Wake Up,” by far Arcade Fire’s largest anthem. The crowd overtook the band at points, even before they purposefully toned down their instruments to give the fans the floor.
Seemingly in awe of the support, Butler and crew took their time exiting the stage, thanking everyone they could, including local indie-darlings Hidden Cameras and The Constantines for sharing their stages with Arcade Fire before they were this Arcade Fire.
Then it was over. The ecstatic crowd abandoned their seats, bringing along with them the newfound sense of wonder they just acquired. Yes, it was almost time to take off the costumes, but somehow I’m sure many would agree that this performance will never leave anyone’s skin.