by Paul Brammer (News & Opinion Editor)
The Arcade Fire has taken it up a notch with their new album, The Suburbs. In my opinion, they seem that bit closer to making their masterpiece and it was on this strength, and the instructions of my wife, that I snapped up some tickets for their recent show at the Pacific Coliseum. When the Arcade Fire last rolled through the big V (Vancouver, that is, not vagina, though they may have rolled through there as well, but I couldn’t say for sure) they packed Deer Lake Park, and so they became one of the few bands on the planet for whom playing an arena is a return to an intimate setting.
Every gig that I’ve been to in Vancouver has had a shite support act. In fact, the only time I saw a good support since I’ve lived in North America was when That One Guy opened for Porcupine Tree, and that was in Seattle. Thankfully, that horrible trend was well and truly bucked by the opener Calexico, who opened for the Arcade Fire. Calexico played their trademark brand of a heady fusion of rock, blues, country, Latin music and a whole lot more in-between. They peppered their set with covers of songs you should never cover, such as Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again”, The Specials’ “Ghost Town” and Love’s “Alone Again Or.” As a lover of all three songs and bands, my blood would have usually boiled at their inclusion in a set, but Calexico pulled them off admirably. The rest of the set was very well done, and included a healthy cross-section of the duo’s back catalogue. They fulfilled their job of warmer-uppers admirably.
However, such is the fervour that the Arcade Fire engenders among its fan base, I’m not sure they need an opener (an interesting aside: I always loved the way that Ronnie James Dio (RIP) used to do his shows. There were no support acts, and Dio would come on at 7:30 sharp and perform ridiculously long sets. Talk about getting your money’s worth). My suspicion was confirmed by the batshit-crazy reception that the band received when they strode out on stage.
The first thing you’re struck by when the Arcade Fire come out is how frigging numerous they are – I’ve seen smaller armies. They opened with track two off their new album, “Ready to Start,” which is a great song and was rapturously received. A more rapturous reception came when “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” of their first album, was the next song. It is interesting to note just how quickly the Arcade Fire’s first album has entered rock and roll history, and how much adulation was heaped upon the songs from their debut that were played at the gig. Another impressive feature of the live show is the way in which the band manages to bridge the gap between performer and audience – it’s an age-old idiom, but the bigger the stage, the bigger the distance. The Quebec group does not subscribe to that possibility, and it’s not hard to see why – mass band singalongs and the swapping of instruments and roles between songs help to engender a gang mentality among the band, and the group’s genuine affection for the audience fosters great bonds between audience and band.
Set highlights include new song “Rococo,” the pre-encore set closer “Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels),” and the encore closer “Wake Up.” Now, I never really liked “Wake Up” from the first time I heard the debut album – its big “oh-oh” sing-along chorus seemed to contravene the intimacy of the rest of the album. However, when played in an arena setting, the song is a perfect set closer.
At eighteen songs, the set felt as though it could have been a little bit longer, but once the Arcade Fire have had as many years in music as Dio, I’m sure they’ll kick out the jams for hours and hours. Also, the fact that half of the set was from the new album did not cause a disjointed experience – the new blended quite seamlessly with the somewhat old, and I’m sure that, by the time they next roll through Van City, we’ll all have those ones memorized and cherished as much as the first two batches.