the arcade fire [live at sala, 21/1/04]
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.


so the Arcade Fire are my new old favourite band.

I hadn't given up on them when I saw them at the end of last year, but I had, I think, lost faith in them. I wasn't sure I trusted their judgment. The group wasn't bad, but it wasn't the same band as the one that I had fallen in love with.

And they're still not. For the most part, the show last night lacked the particular pastoral magic that typefied the group's 2002 performances, and their s/t demo. After the concert I bumped into M from the Daily, who said she liked it but that she missed the record's feeling of "snowflakes-gently-falling." The disco bits are mostly gone, too: "Headlights" has been slowed right down, fuzzed right up, and it's difficult npw to imagine the song as a crowd-pleasing dance anthem.

B-b-b-but, the Arcade Fire last evening were extraordinary. They took advantage of me, opening with a shuffling sort of country waltz, like a cabaret version of Royal City: this is the sort of stuff that automatically makes me warm&fuzzy. Once they were in the door, though, they threw off the shambling folk clothes and loosed an hour+ of brazen, brilliant, breath-taking rock music. They were monsters up there, the size of mountains, stamping through cornfields and cities and oceans. The "angst" and "anger" that had bugged me before was reframed as momentum, passion, fierce love. The sheer volume of it - the blast of electric guitars, the sneer of accordion, the panic and poetry of Win's vocals, Regine's siren howl. And the drums: I owe Howard a big apology. Whereas the last time I saw him I heard sloppy, one-note drumming, this time he was thunderous, intelligent, massive. He was a giant hurling fiery boulders down the Marianas Trench. The band's rendition of "No Cars Go" may have been the best they've ever done - the frenzy, the spirit, the musicality, the iceberg-huge crashing, blazing finale. Drums drums DRUMS, violin as a worthy substitute for Will's synths, the yelling and the repetition repetition repetition. The Arcade Fire don't do chamber pop any more - in fact, they don't do pop - but the rock they play is wild and varied and rich. Apart from nu-"Headlights" and "Alexander [?]", every single song they played could be an indie megahit - heck, maybe even a bona fine Billboard hit, with the right producer. Their sounds-likes circled like frantic birds (from Modest Mouse to New Order to Coldplay), and yet it was braver, wiser than all of this. Like Broken Social Scene with its gloves off (and with lyricists worth their salt); like the Flamings Lips if the Lips had been living in a post-apocalyptic no-dancing dystopia and were only now emerging, high-hats ringing, broadswords raised, to reclaim the Earth for youth and love and dream.

The band had stripped away the slightly-annoying theatrics, and Regine (at least) had reinjected her familiar-wonderful fun-wicked allure. It was serious business though: I do miss the whimsy, the gaiety. Still, this new thing - this awesome, driven, clear-eyed music - is as fine as anything else in the whole world right now. It's far better than Montreal's other wunderkind-du-jour (the Unicorns, the Stills, Wolf Parade, uh, Sam Roberts). It's brighter and more lovely and more long-lasting. It's liver and wholer and smarter. It feels, and it fills, and it's got choruses that you can sing along to. It's magnificent.

So yes - the Arcade Fire are back. And if they can make a record which meets the promise of their material, it will explode. Maybe I'll explode. Maybe.

(next show: with the wrens on feb 6!)

Posted by Sean at January 23, 2004 12:43 AM


Posted by James at January 25, 2004 11:11 PM

As you've probably seen in the Montreal Mirror, the Arcade Fire are up for a MIMI award. If they win for "rising star", I'll be the first to applaud them. The AF are the Real Deal, not like those mythical one-horn pony creatures in pink with the Casio Fetish that have the critics @ salivating.

Posted by Jeremy Brendan at March 12, 2004 2:05 AM

Earlier this year, I did an interview with the Arcade Fire. Check it out @

Rock on!

Posted by Jeremy Brendan at May 23, 2004 4:55 AM

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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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