Arcade Fire ringleader Win Butler spends much of his band's latest album, The Suburbs(out Tuesday), revisiting his past growing up in suburban Houston, but Saturday night the songwriter made it clear where his current spiritual and actual home is: Montreal.
Butler and his Quebec-based band dazzled a hometown crowd of 20,000-plus as co-headliners of Montreal's two-day-long Osheaga festival, drawing heavily upon new material as well as tracks from their celebrated debut, Funeral (somewhat missing in the mix were darker songs from sophomore record Neon Bible).
They began appropriately enough with one of The Suburbs' standout stompers, "Ready to Start." As the guitars rang out minor-key chords like church bells ringing, anticipation gave way to release as thousands of fans inched closer towards the stage -- one young woman briefly passed out and was taken away by medics. Forget Sonic Youth (who play the festival Sunday): Arcade Fire's "Ready to Start" might be the new "Teenage Riot."
The band quickly pivoted into "Laika," the merry mix of multi-instrumentalists making it clear they were giving their friends and family something special with the carefully constructed setlist of old and new tunes.
Next they turned the ignition on "No Cars Go," singing and swooning as fireworks from the adjacent Montreal International Fireworks Competition lit up the night sky of Jean Drapeau Park on Montreal's Ste. Hélène island, where the aspirant Coachella of Canada was taking place.
"Haiti" followed, much to the delight of the female fans, who can't get enough of Regine Chassagne's vocal stylings. The band's co-driving force gesticulated wildly as the track began, suggesting something special, and she delivered on all counts until the track's triumphant end.
But it was the new material that seemed to truly inspire Arcade Fire Saturday, and they were at their finest with offerings such as the haunting "Rococo."
Artfully projected bubbles lit up a screen behind the group as Butler voiced the song's reason to be while moody green lights illuminated the band and the hundreds of tiny gnats who call the island home. "They build it up just to burn it back down," he sang, quietly, but with purpose."The wind is blowing all the ashes around."
As bursts of silver and red fireworks flamed out, fans were treated to an all-too-rare concert-going experience: serendipitous, chill-inducing majesty.
Luckily for Osheaga's masses, the show was only half over at this point, and Arcade Fire had much more to give.
The well-practiced ensemble performed more songs from The Suburbs, such as "Deep Blue," with equal parts precision and passion. "Let the century pass me by/ Standing under the night sky,"went the lyrics. It was yet another mystical moment for fans and seemingly the band itself, who appeared to be thrilled with the prospect of playing for a large hometown crowd outdoors just days before the release of their already well-received third album.
"We're so happy to be here," Butler said after they tore through another new standout "Month of May."
Despite a shaky start to the Blondie-meets-ABBA sway of the synth-driven "Sprawl 2 (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," the group brought it home with a steady finish that had the crowd dancing and embracing.
By the time Arcade Fire unleashed a confetti cannon during an anthemic encore of "Neighborhood #1 (tunnels)" it was clear the band wanted nothing more than to share their melancholy-tinged joie de vivre with anyone willing to listen: and listen their fans did until the very end.