Arcade Fire’s Vancouver show equal parts catharsis and affirmation
At the Pacific Coliseum on Tuesday, September 28
Considering how cathartic and affirming Arcade Fire’s set was at the Pacific Coliseum on Tuesday, it’s surprising how disappointingly the evening began.
People were still trickling into their seats when openers Calexico started kicking up a ruckus, so only about 100 or so kids ended up in front of the stage to see the band’s set. The Arizona septet still played as if the joint was packed, though, doing its best to lead the crowd in sing-alongs as it dusted Americana with sweeping slide guitar and Cinco de Mayo horns. Frontman Joey Burns tore into fleet-fingered flamenco runs on the rollicking “Alone Again Or,” while the group dished up a Latin-flavoured interpretation of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” halfway through “Not Even Stevie Nicks.” By set’s end the Coliseum bowl had filled up considerably, but you could tell the mass was waiting for Calexico to make its exit.
It’s been three years since Montreal indie-popsters Arcade Fire last played Vancouver, so the tension in the building was fierce before its performance. Naturally, shrieks and applause filled the venue as a massive billboard mounted onstage lit up with silhouettes of the octet. Right from the first jangling notes of “Ready to Start,” the place went nuts. One of the bouncier cuts off the recent disc The Suburbs (a large portion of this zest due to Tim Kingsbury’s walking bassline) the track set the tone for what would end up being a communal celebration.
“We’re really fucking happy to be here,” band leader Win Butler shouted excitedly. “Vancouver is like our sister city!”
Though the frontman would rock the mike for the better part of the night, his wife Régine Chassagne took control of the crowd early on with the one-two punch of “Haiti” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”. The former held added meaning for Chassagne this time around, as she clutched at her chest and sung about her former homeland, which suffered through a massive earthquake earlier this year. Later on, Arcade Fire would reveal that a dollar from each ticket sold would be going towards rebuilding Haiti.
“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” injected a glittery disco vibe into the group’s sound, which was anything but unwelcomed. Sweet synths filled the air as Chassagne twirled and vogued around the stage, eventually grabbing a pair of multi-coloured pom-poms to shake about.
Arcade Fire performs "Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)" at the Pacific Coliseum.
Other new tunes like the propulsive “Rococo” found the band’s members jumping in on percussion. Redheaded Richard Reed Parry took to tickling the ivories for part of the song but was compelled to hop on a second kit near full-time drummer Jeremy Gara to pound out a beat of his own. It was one of many moments that saw members of Arcade Fire switch up its instruments.
Whether Chassagne was cranking on an accordion on “No Cars Go”, or multi-instrumentalist William Butler was banging on a marching band tom-tom, the outfit proved that it’s not afraid to mess with the program.
While there are moments of melancholy on The Suburbs, including “We Used to Wait,” which pines for the days when we relied on snail mail, none of the songs sound overwhelmingly depressing. Even when Butler, seated behind a piano, choked out a line about “fucking condos and high-rises” on “The Suburbs”, there was hope in his voice. That hope was doubled by Chassagne, who serenely walked over to her husband’s side to sing along.
The finale of “Wake Up”, off 2004’s Funeral, found the entire band wide-eyed and appreciative of its audience.
“You get back what you give,” Win said before launching into the encore. “You guys are fucking awesome.” Lined up across the front of the stage, Arcade Fire sang its rallying cry along with thousands of devotees before calling it a night.
Filing out of the stadium and back to the suburbs, fans knew that, if only for a couple of hours, they’d been as one with the biggest indie band in the world. And despite that rough start to the night, it felt incredible.