Arcade Fire bring 'Reflektor' tour to costumed crowd at Toronto's ACC
Concert goers wear masks at the Arcade Fire at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Thursday, March 13, 2014. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michelle Siu)
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, March 13, 2014 11:54PM EDT
TORONTO - Partway through a packed gig at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday, Arcade Fire's Win Butler surveyed the nattily attired crowd — many of whom had adhered to the band's optional dress code — and apparently liked what he saw.
"You look really beautiful tonight," he said. "Thanks for dressing up."
Of course, his band dressed up too — and, more importantly, looked every bit the arena-ready rock stars they've gradually become.
Over the course of 115 minutes, the Montrealers blitzed a smartly curated collection of their best-loved material — plucking liberally from the much-cherished "Funeral" and "The Suburbs" as well as their more difficult newest record, "Reflektor" — with an instrumental force made possible by the dozen players sprinkled across the broad, elegantly decorated stage.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise that Butler and co. settled into the cavernous atmosphere of the Air Canada Centre as if reclining in a blissfully worn armchair.
The "indie rock" band that perhaps most convincingly rendered that term absurd, Arcade Fire always seemingly had one eye on the arena — even at their earliest stages, the scope of their high-strung orchestral rock felt outsized in both emotion and ambition.
And over their first three records, the band only trimmed the wildest fringes of influential debut "Funeral" until they arrived at 2010's "The Suburbs," a rock record so cleanly coiffed it wasn't particularly surprising when it topped the chart or snagged the Grammy Award for album of the year.
If anything, their material flourished in the larger setting; songs that were grand to begin with gained new grandeur. "Funeral" favourites seemed to elicit the most audience enthusiasm, and it was understandable — cathartic anthems including "Rebellion (Lies)" and "Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)" sounded downright thunderous beamed out from titanic arena speakers. The show-closing "Wake Up" prompted an arena-wide singalong.
The band's six principal members navigated the wide white stage with ease, with a half-dozen more players scattered behind. Honeycomb-shaped screens flanked the stage and another two plush silver screens pivoted behind.
The tall, lanky Butler addressed the crowd sparingly but warmly, introducing "The Suburbs"' rollicking title track with a local reference: "This song's about growing up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, but it might as well be about Ajax." He also diverted into an anecdote about attending the Oscars recently — the group was nominated for its work on the "Her" soundtrack — and noticing the signs of anti-gay protesters nearby.
"It's easy to forget living in this little liberal enclave of Canada, this tiny little bastion of liberalness ... (that) we're living in a world in which people don't realize that people are born with different sexualities," he said.
Butler tells Toronto, 'You shoud be very proud'
The band showed a playful side, too. Butler sang a few words of Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball" (finishing the couplet with "blah blah blah") as he launched "Rococo," while the neon-hued "Suburbs" highlight "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" found singer Regine Chassagne hopping about with brightly coloured ribbons.
During the encore, Butler performed a cover of the Constantines' great "Young Lions" under a helmet made to look like his own face, while at another point someone stumbled onstage with a cube-shaped screen on his head broadcasting images of Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
"You should be very proud," Butler said before launching into a blistering take on "Normal Person." "Someone give this man a tambourine — he's the mayor!"
And even as the band members took to their spacious surroundings, they also seemed determined to convince the gathering that the show was taking place in one of the cozier environments they would have played in years past. Just as energetic openers Kid Koala and Dan Deacon did, Butler implored the throngs in front of the stage to work up a sweat.
"There's so many pretty girls here, ask a girl to dance or a guy to dance," he howled before "We Exist."
Later in the set, he scolded: "That's a pretty weak moshpit."
The energy level rose considerably when, during the encore's "Here Comes the Night Time," blasts of confetti fluttered over the kinetic crowd.
The setlist leaned mostly on older favourites, perhaps reflecting "Reflektor"'s relatively lukewarm reception.
Though the ambitious double album opened at No. 1 in markets including Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., its occasionally exhausting experimental excursions, lack of persuasive singles and perceived self-seriousness elicited a relatively chilly reaction from some fans and critics.
A Washington Post takedown, widely shared among sympathetic doubters, alleged that the band sounded "like gigantic dorks with boring sex lives."
And Arcade Fire did nothing to quell increasingly noisy accusations of pretension by encouraging concert-goers to don "formal attire or costumes" for its tour of lifeless hockey arenas. The band eventually backed off somewhat, pointing out that the policy was "super not mandatory."
Toronto dresses up for the prom
And yet, the dance-inflected "Reflektor" fared better in a live setting and many fans cheerfully did take the costume cue. Masquerade ball eyewear was particularly popular and sequins abounded. Some went full-on Halloween while more opted for the formal half of the dress code.
There were whimsical suits and more low-key office-appropriate attire, while those who dressed dapper but not theatrically so made the evening feel vaguely like an alt-prom held in an arena, a vibe magnified by the audience's youthful skew.
"This is actually my prom dress," said finely attired concert-goer Anita Lodi, wearing a long black gown. "It really adds to the concert vibe and creates an awesome atmosphere. ... We love it. It's really cool to see everyone dressed up."
Ashley Kubbinga, meanwhile, opted for a Little Red Riding Hood outfit while her friend Candice Knihnitski, a local radio host, dressed as what she called the "Wicked Witch of Neon Oz" in a fluorescent green and orange dress.
"I think this is way better than dressing up all fancy," Kubbinga said. "You can only dress up in a costume once a year. You can dress up in formal attire a couple times a year so let's take advantage of dressing up in a costume."
Well, not everyone was convinced. Said one casually clad audience member, who declined to give his name, of his hoodie-and-jeans getup: "It's a rock concert, not a wedding.