The Arcade Fire
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


The Arcade Fire w/ Les Mouches - Montreal 27/6/04

In a drab, low-ceilinged room at a Montreal Spanish Community Centre, two bands made noise, Sunday night. The crowd was strangely quiet; attentive. Maybe we were nervous about the federal election that was looming the next day. More likely we were nervous about the return of the city's brightest, bravest band. A band that had been away for months, sequestered in the Hotel 2 Tango recording an album, then away on tour with The Unicorns.

Reunions are scary. Rejoining friends after a year away, I always wonder whether we'll be able to slip into the same play of laugh and gaze and nod. I wonder if we'll hear each-other's voices in the same way, or if we'll have forgotten how to be together. I wonder if the eyeglint will have faded.

So we stood in that dingy room, an enormous outdoors through the door behind us, and we hoped. The Arcade Fire climbed onto the stage and played a concert with that great familiar music, the swell of life we remembered from dawns and deaths and break-ups and break-downs - and from shows prior. And we dared not jinx this thing we were hearing. We dared not. So we cheered and we hollered and then we quietly waited for the next bolt of music.

The whole thing started with Les Mouches.

Three men and a woman in shadow - acoustic guitar/vocals, electric, drums, and steph comilang crouched over an overhead projector, playing with slides. Throughout their set, her cut-outs and gels flowed over the musicians: an analog disco-ball, a snip-'n-paste dream. There were quiet windings of acoustic guitar, the hesitant play of electric, and then out of the dark a yelp, and Rob Gordon's brilliant drum spalashes, accelerating and breaking and wild.

Les Mouches played the music of messy, bodily human life: the tender kiss, the ache of throat, the sores on face, the hurtling into black. Love came shuddering suddenly out, gulped and tumbled away. Owen Pallett's vocals are important only as a gentle noise - any perceived lyrics are needlessly distracting. We want to hear that stumbling human sound and then the breaking-open of beauty. We're ever lurching toward death, and then back out into sunlight. Difficult, hypnotic music.

Les Mouches - "What We Know As Buildings Have Always Been Canyons". From the band's superb new LP, You're Worth More To Me Than 1000 Christians. It's by far a better record than their EP: it's confusing and lovely and - if you let it, - moving. It's difficult and it bends in the wrong places. "What We Know As Buildings" lets the world explode and then come to order and then explode again. Beautiful peace is swallowed up by its own hidden shudders. The quiet lull of guitar and the greyblack crack of a wheezing living drumkit. Ghosts sliding into bodies. [buy]

Then, indeed, The Arcade Fire took the stage. They wore their army uniforms, and smiles. Win was taller, it seemed; longer. Howard walked more comfortably in his shoes. Tim was steadier - confident and thoughtful. Richard even freer with his feeling.

And Regine's eyes glittered.

They have an album to be released on September 14th on Merge. They have a 7" with one of their finest new songs, "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," and a b-side by their late grandfather (see below). And when they played their dark, wise, dancing rock'n'roll, everything blazed. The words are vivid, the high-hats are hit, the band roars melodies like a furious new wave band that spent six months at Motown training camp. They care - good lord do they care! They care about the songs they sing, the things they play, but more than that they care about us. And they demand that we care, as well.

The Arcade Fire's first EP is full of gaiety. It's dusty and light and giddy. It's jubilant and it asks us to celebrate - laugh and dance and celebrate and learn to live.

But that's old hat, now. The Flaming Lips taught us that lesson. And The Polyphonic Spree. Even, arguably, the Fiery Furnaces and LCD Soundsystem.

So the Arcade Fire changed their tack. The wheeled out the big drums. And what they are now is bigger, fiercer - they show their teeth. "We told you to live," they seem to say, "but off of the dancefloor, outside of your little clubs, you didn't. You didn't learn." So no more pretty pop songs. Now the beauty is deeper, longer, higher. It's the beauty of a thunderclap, an avalanche, of the earth breaking under your feet. No more do they cajole you: they shake, they threaten, they yell, they plead. "WAKE UP." Parents, children, siblings, lovers, lonelies, human fucking beings - WAKE.

They sing of gripping lightning bolts, of tunnelling through walls of snow. Guitar and bass saw through our ears, synths build an ominous front, the bass-drum pounds at our skeletons and the high-hat tugs at our feet. And yet always a serious loveliness that can zip of of the sky, a streak of meteor - a slow sad song from Regine (breakmyheart), the grinding folk waltz, the hair that blows off of your face as they howl the "ohs" of "Wake Up." Les Mouches' Owen (also of the Hidden Cameras) assisted with violin; Dan from Wolf Parade helped open the set; they almost played a Unicorns medley, but didn't.

I'm not going to post the new song from the 7" - better that I wait for the CD-quality release, that we give things full credit. You have no idea how pleased I was to hear that the album will be released prior to September 23rd, the day I leave for Europe. I was terrified of flying away over the ocean, all copies of the album trapped on this forsaken continent. I almost hugged Tim when he told me.

That said, however, here is something from the archives. Brad expressed an interest, I'm very partial, and what with the Django post last week, it seems completely suitable.

The Arcade Fire - "Brazil" [live 16/05/02]. A moonlit take on the Barroso classic, with strangely broken-hearted vocals by Win Butler and the light starry sound of Regine Chassagne on rhodes. The departed Dane Mills on drums. There's a glow that falls over me, nostalgia and bittersweet memories. (Recorded at a loft at 1619 William St., in Montreal.)

Alvino Rey Orchestra - "My Buddy". And finally, here is the absolutely wonderful, charming track that comes as the b-side of the Arcade Fire's new single. Originally from a 1940 radio recording, it's Alvino Rey - late grandfather of Win and late father of the pedal steel guitar. "My Buddy" opens with the loving and summery strum of guitar. There are brief swells of horns, like a lovesick one-sided conversation. Then, like a weary robot, a voice comes through the guitar - "Nights are long since you went away / I dream about you all through the day / my buddy". It's sad and warm at once, it's playful and light, and even - perhaps - quietly devastating. [buy]


enough of that blather, eh?

i applaud tonight's canadian election results! based on polling and pessimism, i made a bet with my friend Jason, insisting that the Conservatives would win at least 100 seats. and it's the happiest bet i've ever lost. the liberals chastened and intact, but more importantly - a doubling of the NDP's last showing, and a loud voice in the next parliament. hooray hooray!

Keith from TTIKTDA has launched an utterly fabulous new project, Memos to Ourselves, a free-for-all audioblog that hopes to collect song, sound and nonsense from across the world. As soon as I work out the Canadian long-distance thing, I'll be contributing; you should too. Wonderful!

Posted by Sean at June 29, 2004 11:10 AM

Sounds like a great night.

I had a similar experience this past week when Manitoba finally visited Winnipeg (now that sound geographically incorrect):

The Joy, The Love, THE DRUMS!

Posted by chris at June 29, 2004 12:59 PM

the problem i have is this: i'm fine with you liking better music than me, but when, on top of that, you are able to write this well... it only causes pain.

Posted by cody at June 29, 2004 11:06 PM

i LOVE your writing as well.

my less poetic review of the fire/mouches in T.O. is here: (scroll down)

so much goodness in one night.

Posted by Brian at June 30, 2004 2:11 AM

Nice obit on Alvino in the latest MOJO mag

Posted by goldenf at June 30, 2004 1:01 PM


Posted by Brad at June 30, 2004 4:09 PM

I saw the Arcade Fire open for the Unicorns a few weeks ago, and I was utterly blown away. Beautiful review; you put it much more eloquently than I ever could.

Do you know of any other Arcade Fire live bootlegs that exist? I want some badly, but I have no idea where to look...

Posted by sarah h. at July 5, 2004 3:11 PM

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about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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