Out of the over three million people considered to be urban dwellers in the city of Montreal, approximately 100,000 of them congregated on Thursday night in the Quartier des spectacles, a space roughly the size of a few city blocks. Arcade Fire was home and Montreal made sure to give them the warmest of welcomes.
For as far as the eye could see, from the giant UQAM that stood diagonal my position and over to the itsy-bitsy stage to my right-centre to all the way down Jeanne-Mance Street and spread out east-west along Ste-Catherine Street, people filled every bit of available surface.
A group of friends gazed out from their third-story apartment building window on the south side of Ste-Catherine Street. A woman who looked like she was in her mid-20s hung between the flimsy branches of a youthful tree just a few metres to my left. I stood on a grassy hill about three-quarters of the way back to the far left of the main stage.
Even with the help of my weak, cheap-framed glasses, the members of Arcade Fire appeared to be but erratically moving amoebas against a backdrop of fuzzy music videos. To actually see the performers onstage was not easy and at least 75 per cent of the monstrous crowd relied on watching the two megascreens that were mounted on either side of the main stage.
That being said, the sound quality was spectacular. This was not only due to the incredible setup of equipment but to the artists themselves, who were definitely on top of their shit.
Having been my first live Arcade Fire experience, I had expected the delivery to be weak, especially after having played a much more intimate show at Metropolis the night before. As it turns out, this was furthest from the case.
The 17-song set gave a diverse representation of the band’s three albums: 2004’s Funeral, 2007’s Neon Bible and 2010’s The Suburbs. What struck me as impressive was that the songs, when performed live, did not veer too far from how they appeared on the albums. When a band can stay true to the recorded version’s song length, instrumental progressions and vocal exactitude (though to be fair, drummer and vocalist RÃ©gine Chassagne and guitarist and vocalist Win Butler had some out-of-breath-sounding moments), it shows that what you hear on the album is the real deal. In a culture where mainstream music is often a collage of best takes and auto-tune tweaking, it’s comforting to see a band’s fame arise, above all, from their skill and talent.
After a pumped-up delivery of the song “Haiti,” Butler spoke to the crowd about his fierce belief that the city of Montreal has the power and goodwill to play a major role in the rebuilding of the country.
“I really believe that Montreal and Quebec are really going to transform Haiti,” Butler asserted. “The city of Montreal is just so committed to Haiti that I really believe that it’s possible.”
The band used the free concert as a means of raising funds for French Haiti relief association KANPE. On Aug. 2, the band announced they were giving away two passes to the VIP section to the first 100 people to donate $200 to the organization. According to KANPE’s website, these passes were completely claimed within three hours.
Chassagne, whose parents are from Haiti, also introduced UN deputy special envoy to Haiti Paul Farmer, whose life and accomplishments are the subject of Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains.
“The book really changed my life,” Chassagne passionately confessed, adding that Farmer has been a real inspiration for her. Earlier in the day, Chassagne and Farmer participated in a Concordia Homecoming panel on engagement and sustainability in the rebuilding of Haiti.
The performance ended with a two song encore for which the songs could not have been more sensibly chosen. Arcade Fire came back to pump out “Rebellion (Lies),” and the entire crowd hooed and hawed along. Quite unexpected was that at the end of the song, multi-instrumentalist Will Butler smashed the marching-band style drum that hung around his neck into smithereens. The scene was very Cobain-esque, but extremely cool nonetheless.
For the second song in the encore, and final song of the evening, Arcade Fire played their epic ode to suburbia “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” Soon after the song began, several glowing red and blue beach balls were released into the crowd, and a giant bounce-a-thon ensued.
“If you guys see us on the street tomorrow,” said Win Butler at the end of the song, “don’t ask us for a photo. Just say, ‘Hey, I saw you at the show last night,’ and I’ll say, ‘I saw you at the show, too.’”
1. “Ready to Start”
2. “Keep the Car Running”
3. “No Cars Go”
5. “Modern Man”
7. “Speaking in Tongues”
9. “Wake Up”
10. “Neighborhood # 2 (Laika)”
11. “The Suburbs”
12 “Month of May”
13. “Neighborhood # 1 (Tunnels)”
14. “We Used To Wait”
15. “Neighborhood # 3 (Power Out)”
“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”