As I stumbled in from work on Saturday evening, relieved to be in relative warmth after the torturous cold that accompanied me on my walk from the metro station to my apartment, I went about my usual ‘just got home’ business. Coats were hung, lights were lit, rooms were scanned for unwanted roommates and of course, the answering machine was checked.
As my friend Lindsay’s voice echoed on the machine’s tiny speaker, my jaw dropped when I heard: “There’s an unannounced Arcade Fire show at the Church on the corner of St. Viateur and St. Urbain tonight! Tickets go on sale at seven!” Needless to say, I ran out the door towards the Mile-End with only 15 minutes to spare.
I reached the Polish Catholic Church at seven on the dot, utterly convinced that I would be too late to secure any tickets to the show. Much to my surprise, there was but a small crowd at the base of the imposing structure.
I attributed the limited turnout to the blistering minus 20 weather and to the rather ‘hush-hush’ way the show had been promoted. A few numb toes and many curses directed at my lack of mittens later, a kind door person fastened a shiny golden bracelet to my wrist for the meagre sum of $10. This was my ticket in. I was beaming with pride.
I walked into the church basement and was informed that the proceedings would start at around nine. The venue’s decorations were bare yet endearing. Christmas lights adorned the top of guitar amplifiers, a tired old disco ball that had no doubt seen many a community dance hung and a gigantic neon-lit bible that decorated the back of the stage. No coincidence then that Arcade Fire’s upcoming sophomore album, to be released on March 6th, is entitled Neon Bible.
Shortly before nine, the show got underway with a performance by violinist Owen Pallett’s solo act Final Fantasy. Pallett delivered a fascinatingly pretty set, using his violin both in the traditional fashion and as a percussive instrument. He builds his songs by recording and layering violin sounds, all the while singing over these lush soundscapes that he singularly and effortlessly creates.
As that tiny disco ball spun around, spitting flecks of colored light across the room, Pallett’s falsetto cracked and charmed the already won-over audience. The mood for the rest of the evening had been set.
As the ten members of Arcade Fire picked up their instruments, I couldn’t help but be struck with a slightly surreal feeling of elation. Here was a band that had managed to sell out its upcoming five-night stay at Montreal’s Ukrainian Federation in a matter of minutes, performing for a minuscule crowd of barely 400 souls packed in a church basement.
Win Butler and company exploded with energy and delivered a staggering performance. The band was electric, apparently tremendously excited to be performing their new material in front of a crowd. The band’s set was composed mostly of new material, with older crowd favourites “No Cars Go”, “Rebellion” and “Power Out” thrown in for good measure. The oldies sounded fantastic, garnished with welcomed tweaks, while new songs like “Black Mirror” and “Intervention” were both lovely and majestic.
As the night wound to a close with two tracks from their breakthrough album Funeral, there seemed to be the unspoken consensus in the room that everyone had assisted to something special.
To those of you attending the band’s February shows, consider yourselves lucky. As for the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait until the album’s release to relive something even remotely proximate to Saturday evening’s experience.