Review: Arcade Fire dazzles at Bell Centre, but questions remain

Music is not experienced in a vacuum.

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So would the gang leader we’d all come to see address the fact that five people came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct?

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Not exactly the question you’d choose to keep in your head while going to a concert, right?

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Fair enough, though, and one surely had to be asked as Arcade Fire, arguably the most popular and beloved band to come out of Montreal, returned to the city for the final date of their We tour, the group’s first since trident report of the first four of those charges (there was a fifth last month) that had many longtime fans wondering if Win Butler is who they thought he was.

It’s not as if some at the Bell Center on Saturday night were really demanding or expecting complete mea culpa—or, conversely, passionate denial—of the stage. A simple acknowledgment would have sufficed. Unfortunately, however, none arrived. It seems that in the brief interval between the Pitchfork report and the start of the We tour, a decision was made in the Arcade Fire camp: don’t talk about it. And they didn’t.

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Part of what makes this story so heartbreaking is that Saturday’s concert was filled with reminders of why this band has meant so much to so many, and still does, if the enthusiastic response from the Bell Center’s 10,500 multigenerational attendees was anything to go by. a clue. . While each of those attendees will have had their own reasons for attending, Montreal clearly isn’t ready to give up on this band.

Opening act Boukman Eksperyans was challenged to start his set when the crowd had only just begun to arrive, and he did as well as could be expected under the circumstances. A veteran eight-piece, genre-blending, spiritually and politically charged Haitian band, their album Kalfou Danjere is a masterpiece that has been awaiting wider discovery since its 1992 release. heavy metal, they became an inspiring ensemble. Even here, though, it was hard to ignore the elephant in the room: after all, the band was on this tour because others (first Feist, then Beck) had decided they didn’t want to be on it, and everyone in the building knew it.

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Arcade Fire have never been a band where individual instrumental contributions are particularly noted; rather, it’s an ensemble in the truest sense of the word, subsuming the ego for the benefit of the collective sound, swapping instruments with dizzying glee, supporting the songs with nuance and strength. The absence of Will Butler and his crazy stage presence were felt; Win’s younger brother, who left the band in March, will be remembered by many as the one who used to throw instruments to incredible heights and catch them at the last possible moment. There was no such throwing of things tonight. Perhaps it is thought that the time for such youthful daring has already passed. Or maybe it’s just an insurance issue.

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In a set that spanned the band’s career (song count per album: Funeral, five; Neon Bible, two; The Suburbs, three; Reflektor, three; Everything Now, two; We, five, and one other song, from the which we will talk about later). ) and a performance that alternated between a main stage and a smaller, more central circular stage, came a surprise, which perhaps shouldn’t have been so surprising: Régine Chassagne was the star of the show. All night you felt that she was the engine of the band, musically and emotionally, especially when the final stretch featured a devastating doublet of songs in which she took the lead.

Haiti and Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), one a lament for the country of their parents’ birth, the other an anthem for the generations who have grown up in supposedly soulless American suburbia, championed Arcade Fire as a great band, and for Chassagne equal in importance to her husband. It was also when members of the Boukman Eksperyans began to return to the stage to augment the band; ironically, the show ended up being enriched in a way it never could have been with either Feist or Beck opening.

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Music is not experienced in a vacuum. As listeners, we develop a relationship with musicians and, just like in our everyday personal relationships, we expect to be given the respect of not being manipulated or misled. Win Butler has shown a rare gift for writing empathetically about the young and vulnerable, so it’s really upsetting to learn that she, among other things, has been texting young female fans.

The subtext of Saturday’s concert was underscored, albeit unacknowledged, during the encore. Dropping perhaps a few too many F-bombs in the process, Butler introduced Leonard Cohen’s Bird on the Wire with an anecdote about being a newcomer to Montreal and randomly seeing Cohen on the street one day. This, Butler said, was the moment he knew he had come to the right city.

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As the song progressed, Cohen’s theme of regret and apology came to the fore: these were the words of a man apologizing for being “rude” and “untrue”. With her wife sitting near her playing a cello, and with thousands of people around her offering their support, it was almost impossible not to think that Butler was directing the song to her and the 10,500. But what about five other people? Does “we” include everyone but them?

Win Butler needs to say a lot more.

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