August 29, 2014 — Arcade Fire put on a fairly fiery show at the Molson Amphitheatre on Friday night, the Montreal indie rockers' second 2014 Toronto stopover in support of their hit Reflektor LP. The atmosphere in the outdoor stadium was fun; the capacity crowd was loud and clearly ready to rock. It was not as electric as the last time I saw the arty superstar ensemble — at Toronto's legendary Massey Hall during the Neon Bible tour — however, it was as good as a rock show can get at the cavernous venue.Fans were on their feet for the entire 100-minute gig, singing along and dancing to anthem after anthem, with many dressed up for the occasion. Arcade Fire's ex-pat American band leader Win Butler challenged audiences on this tour to come to shows in Studio 54-inspired disco-themed costumes or formal attire. (I chose the latter and donned a nice black mod suit and tie.) The thousands who chose to play dress-up certainly added to the overall experience — and, perhaps by being included in the production, fans appeared more focused on the show (e.g. I didn't notice many people texting or chatting incessantly during songs; both annoyances plague far too many concerts nowadays). Although some did on this tour, I have no issues with the theatrical nature of the night: giant fake heads atop would-be group members miming two songs (one by Teenage Head); the overcrowded stage (I lost count at around ten musicians); people in the audience done-up like it was Saturday Night Fever-meets-Mardi Gras. The frenzied madness worked.
The flow of the set list was excellent, interwoven with new and old songs, all sounding more or less inspired. But I must admit the venue's sound-system didn't do anyone any favours: it was tinny for the first few songs, evolving, thankfully, into something more punchy by the night's fifth track (a memorable "Suburbs"). I asked my friends about sound quality up on the lawns, and even there it wasn't great, which it usually is. My wife also thought Butler and company looked a little drained during the set's beginning numbers — including Funeral hit "Rebellion (Lies)" and punky Reflektor standout "Joan of Arc" — but this was the group's second last gig of their long tour, so it can be expected. I didn't notice any fatigue anyway.
Although I love their folkier songs — such as Régine Chassagne’s Reflektor showcase "Empty Room" — Arcade Fire's biggest weapon is unleashing uniquely powerful, swelling anthems fuelled by vocals, lyrics, and band synergy (see: David Bowie's slow tension-build masterpiece "Heroes"). They rely on those far more on than the tried-and-true power-chords, jams, and stage antics. And they certainly didn't disappoint.
Even their choice of a local cover song was pretty darn anthemic: Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks' rockabilly version of "Who Do You Love". Arcade Fire have been doing a cover song by a local artist from every city they perform in, and Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks are Toronto area legends, even more Hawk's backup group since his Hawks went on to become The Band. Friday night's rendition sounded early-1960s authentic, which no doubt would put a smile on The Hawk's face.
The final tune was the truly awesome and emotional Funeral epic "Wake Up", which had fans singing together as multi-coloured confetti rained down from the rafters.
Too bad I missed the first warm-up act, Constantines, and too bad I caught some of the second opener Dan Deacon's DJ performance. A personal footnote: Am I nuts in thinking Win's band mate and brother William looks like an unsettling cross between Win and '80s sitcom oddball JM J Bullock from Too Close For Comfort?