Arcade Fire is the most unusual and important case of this century of the little weird indie band that could, did, would and will. Arcade Fire is now cemented in music history having changed the sound of Indie forever on their own terms as a decade of also-rans have tried to duplicate the hand-clapping, vocal symphonic moments, and utter originality of this wondrous band. Formed in 2001 in Montreal, this Texas-French-Canadian-Haitian bouillabaisse is a labour of love led by power couple Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, along with brother Will Butler, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury and Jeremy Gara (here with longtime touring member Sarah Neufeld). Rotating and visiting past members have included Canadian indie wunderkind Owen Pallett.
Watching this band’s trajectory has been most interesting for fans who’ve been there from the spectacular Funeral (2004) which was equal parts world shaking anthems, intimate poetry about love tunneled underground, the larger implications of blackouts and snowstorms, the beauty of youth, and a dirge for lost family members and broken family trees (such as long term devastation in Haiti). In short, it was about everything worth resisting and fighting for. By 2011 Arcade Fire had won Album of the Year at The Grammys, causing “Who are Arcade Fire?” to trend on twitter among the out-of-the-loop American masses. Longtime fans were stunned, and cheered and watched The Grammys to see our guys win (if only for once). As the band has grown, fans have grown with them.
Each subsequent album has been different, a clear sign of growth and change that is necessary for artists, a grappling with ideas we can all relate to but not always articulate – the despair of suburbia, the search for meaning, culture and community, grappling with and love/hate of technology “we used to write” while mastering new forms of communication to create rare artistry and deeply affecting results (and staying largely out of the numbing social media fray) and always experimenting. One gets the sense they have a secret formula that they’ve kept secret, hidden and safe, and we hope they always will. It cannot be duplicated because in contrast to the mourned family trees of Funeral, this new family has been built and growing since 2001 out of a snow-buried Montreal, creating its own intimate world, one directly shared with a truly organically growing number of fans with every beat of a drum (or motorcycle helmet). These multi-instrumentalists formed what felt like a secret club and waved us kids in with silent signals.
Anyone looking for love should stand and marvel at Win and Regine together on stage. This is as true in 2016 as it was back in 2005. In cohesion with the rest of their band/family, they are the performance of a successful relationship at its best. They move silently around each other, working on their craft with backs to one another as if they were in a little shop toiling away in happy harmony. One starts where the other leaves off. This big stage has intimacy and the smaller stages of the mid-2000s grew exponentially within their band space. This isn’t the 1970s dueting couple on one microphone we kids thought was love but was just performance. This is what real love and real collaboration & professionalism looks like. So many of the songs are about their love and about each other without spilling blood or compromising respect. And without taking focus from other eternal musical themes. We’ve watched for years and seen them in Toronto’s intimate & beautiful spaces since 2005 (and Osheaga’s big stage) but never before have we observed the secret cue spotted at Wayhome: Regine, sitting before her instrument, reaching back and tugging on the hem of Win’s coat, as what looked like a coded (!!!) and also to say:”I love you.”Maybe she’s done it every single time, observed by a few eagle-eyed fans who worship this union like others do faux-Reality TV romance.
Here at Wayhome, one of the first of 2016’s full band concerts in two years, Arcade Fire demonstrate the strength and versatility across those four albums. Funeral, Neon Bible (both iconic, both different) The Suburbs and Reflektor are all represented well and there is a flow among them. Included are “My Body is a Cage” “Ready to Start” “Sprawl II” Neighbourhood #3 “Power Out” “Rebellion (Lies)” “Reflektor” and “Intervention”. There is even (always?) room for fan favourite and band totem song “No Cars Go” from Arcade Fire’s first EP (known as Us Kids Know). Passionate, eager AF fans who represented a significant chunk of Wayhomies came in droves, and they were represented by 50 year olds, 22 year olds, and all us kids in between. The demographics game has changed. Arcade Fire changed it, cutting right through music, genres, labels and norms, with a confidence in their own ideas and voices that set the stage for a new type of global success story.
New bands will emerge in their wake not trying to borrow from their singular playbook as we’ve seen in the last few commercial-led, label driven years, but by watching, listening and learning from the originality, passion, and creativity that can truly go anywhere when you have a secret club and something big to say. Oh, and big love.
By Jacqueline Howell
Note: Surprisingly, this 2010 website still exists and you can still visit The Wilderness Downtown. Please do. This was part of the Suburbs album launch and is the reason why this song still generates heaps of emotion as it did when played at Wayhome. http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/