Arcade Fire on Olympic Island in Toronto effectively closed out this summer concert season. Our first trip to the island saw Beach House, Band of Horses, Broken Social Scene, and Pavement serenade Torontonians as we rushed between shows at NXNE and Island Fest. A few weeks later and for roughly the same ticket price – barring a donation to Partners in Health – the Sadies, Janelle Monáe and Arcade Fire welcomed us. A torrent of whispers in line for the ferry argued the value of Win Butler and company, some chastising Arcade Fire for charging such exorbitant fees while others refuting that the Canadian faces of indie were worth each penny. I believe Arcade Fire had a deeper motivation than aggrandizing their sense of self-worth: to disseminate their latest record, The Suburbs. What better way than to fill an island with well-to-do cosmopolitans and charge a price we could all too easily afford. In terms of gathering a target audience to sing-along to the “emotional hopelessness of being a privileged young person in a developed country,” as Sabrina put it, the band hit the bulls eye. But if your heart is set on seeing Arcade Fire, whether you’re there for the message or the music, it matters little if they charge ten dollars or a hundred; when it comes down to it, the band knows how to put on a fine show.
Janelle Monáe served as a curious choice for an opener as it was hard to imagine any musician on Bad Boy Records opening for a group of Québécois baroque singers. The audience received Monáe’s mix of afro-punk and hip-hop enthusiastically as her beehive-like hairstyle bobbed in harmony with each strut and shimmy. As her set wrapped up and the sun dipped lower on the city skyline a sea of black and white balloons floated through the crowd and into their untimely demise at the hands of the “Balloon Guy,” who was determined to purge the island of inflatables. Arcade Fire’s intricate set rose from the rubbery remains with a life-size projection of twisting highway serving as a backdrop for an array of floodlights.
A friend jokingly pointed out that the band must be ‘Ready to Start’ by now and just like that, Win and Régine took the hint opening with the song of the same name. The stage glowed brightly underneath projections of the band hysterically beating on cymbals, grappling microphones, and tearing apart any piece of musical equipment they could find. ‘No Cars Go’ turned into a booming anthem as the band grew noisier and more emphatic with the last remnants of daylight disappearing. The hymn-like ending of the song had the audience swaying with Régine Chassagne as a few thousand Torontonians transformed into an amorous choir that night – we even forgave Balloon Guy.
Arcade Fire perform as if they are grasping for their last breath; however there is little peace in their passing – the band refuses to depart quietly – they die fighting heart attacks in overflowing bathtubs while dodging electric toasters. The antics came to climax in the last two songs leading up to the encore as ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ followed up ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)’. The stage lights focused intensely on the crowd as the pulsating madness reached a dizzying speed and the Butler brothers channeled a shouting match of “But every time you close your eyes (lies)” far onto Queens Quay and Harbourfront Centre. The encore was a powerful ‘Wake Up’, yet I wanted nothing more than to keep the dream of Win and Régine alive for just a little longer.
Ready to Start
Month of May
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
No Cars Go
The Suburbs (continued)
Crown of Love
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
We Used to Wait
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Keep the Car Running