“I have no feeling for you now. Now that I know you better.” Arcade Fire
I’ve said most of all this before, but I feel like I need to say most of it again.
Last week Arcade Fire came to town. It’s been four years since I first saw them. At that time, I knew next to nothing about them. If I had to say anything at all I’d say they were a band from Ottawa and they had one song that I sort of recognized (Rebellion: Lies) and that they opened for U2 at some point. Those 3 facts were all I had going into the concert, and one of them was wrong. They weren’t even from Ottawa, they were from Montreal. The only reason I was going to the concert was because someone I knew had somehow ended up buying an extra ticket and offered it to me. I was going to be sitting up in the stands with a group of people I didn’t know, which I was okay with. Then a day or so before the concert I got a call saying that someone who had a floor ticket would actually prefer a seat and would I be willing to switch? I was willing, as long as the floor ticket didn’t cost me any more, and as it turned out it didn’t.
So there I was, standing amongst a group of people I didn’t know very well about to listen to a band I knew so little about. I mean, I wasn’t that brutal, okay. I mean I did know slightly more than the two facts and the one lie that I mentioned in the first paragraph, but not much more. I borrowed the three CDs that were out at that time and tried to “binge listen” to the band for a couple of weeks before the show. I loved The Suburbs album (their newest at the time, only out for a month then) through and through, couldn’t get into Neon Bible at all except for “Intervention” and I scarcely gave Funeral a listen at all beforehand. But as the concert started and I saw what a live Arcade Fire concert was all about, something broke in me. I was transfixed by Win’s guitar playing, cool showmanship and crowd interaction, and I’m not sure I can adequately describe what happened to me watching Régine sing, dance, and play multiple instruments throughout the night. The fact that I caught myself singing falsetto along with Régine’s part in “Intervention” during the encore or the fact that I named this blog after one of her signature songs probably says it all. And the now famous “rain jacket incident” has become a local legend among my younger cousins who always ask me to tell the story at family gatherings. I’m always happy to oblige.
After that night, I became a little obsessed with the band. I made a playlist of the concert out of the album tracks and played it nonstop in the car and everywhere else. My wife, who knew about as much about the band beforehand, couldn’t get away from the sound of Arcade Fire, and either she was going to hate them or fall in love with them too. Luckily, it was the latter, and she often would express regret at not taking the night off work and coming to the concert with me. I would hear or see Arcade Fire everywhere after that. It wasn’t hard. They become the darlings of the awards circuit, even winning a number of Grammys and prompting the now infamous “Who the F*ck is Arcade Fire?” tumblr account. Is that account still in existence? Do we have time to link to it? I’m being told we have time. Okay, everyone. Here’s the link. Enjoy. Wow, I really didn’t think I’d get an opportunity to link to that tumblr page again. I guess stuff really does stick around online, huh?
At that time, it was so unusual for me to get into a new band. I thought my musical tastes were pretty much set by my mid-30’s, and it was such a fun and exciting thing to find something new and genuinely love it. The last big “addition” to my musical soundscape was probably Coldplay five years before Arcade Fire. Since then, I’m happy to say that I’ve be open to learning about new bands and musicians, partially through exposure through the CBC, but also learning about bands from friends who are way cooler than me. Some of it I like, others not so much, but none of it really altered me the way that night with Arcade Fire did in 2010.
So life moves on, as it usually does, and last summer we heard rumours of a new Arcade Fire album and tour in 2014. Did four years really just go by? Was my daughter, who was barely walking the last time I saw the band about to be entering kindergarten? Later on that fall, the rumours were confirmed and our city would see them come in August. The same friend that offered me that extra ticket four years ago really went to bat and was able to get floor tickets again, but this time we made sure my wife could go too. There was NO WAY she was going to miss seeing Arcade Fire this time round. As the long winter wore on, we got familiar with the new double album, Reflektor, and thought about summer. For my birthday, my wife presented me with a black t-shirt with silver lettering that simply said, “SCREAM”.
I didn’t get it. A shirt celebrating that 1990’s horror franchise? The first was good, but I’m not sure I need a t-shirt for it…..WAIT! She produced a second shirt in her size that had the same silver lettering but this one said “SHOUT” and then the penny dropped. One of the best songs off of the new album is called “Afterlife” and the chorus goes something like “Can we just work it out? Scream and Shout. Til we work it out. Can we just work it out. Scream and Shout…..” and all of a sudden we had our concert gear lined up. The band requested that fans dress up either in formal wear or in costumes for the concert (for fun!) and so we kind of did this hybrid thing where we wore these shirts and I had a mask and a flowery lei and my wife had flowers in her hair and a feather boa.
The night was finally here, and I was just as excited for my wife to see them for the first time in person as I was for seeing them a second time. The group we were with was similar and yet different from the 2010 group. As the Pet Shop Boys eloquently put it, “Some were here and some were missing.” After a great opening act by the energetic tuUnE-yArDs and a fun DJ/dance party set by Dan Deacon, the band entered the arena from the back and walked through the crowd wearing huge papier-mache masks. They were going to walk right by us! I was skeptical at first that they were the actual band and not decoys, but then my wife shouted, “There’s Win!” and sure enough, he seemed to be the only one walking in the group without a mask. Even though he is well over 6 feet tall, he seemed diminished by the spectacle and almost shy as he passed by within a couple of feet of us. But as the processional got closer to the stage, something sparked up in him and he ran up into the stands, grabbed a beer from someone, took a slurp and jumped on the stage to begin the show with “Here Comes the Night Time”, one of the new ones. The band changes up the set list order almost every night on this tour, and an encore song one night might be the opener the next, so we really didn’t know what we would hear and in what order. This suited me just fine, as I was happy just to be in the presence of this band for a couple of hours and let them play whatever they wanted. There were hardly any breaks between songs, just long enough to allow the musicians to change up their instruments or grab a quick sip of water. Highlights for me personally were singing along to “No Cars Go” (and shouting “Hey!” at the right times, something I couldn’t master in 2010), merrily shouting “2009! 2010! I wanna make a record of how I felt then!” during “Month of May” and of course geeking out over “Afterlife” when it finally appeared late in the main set. A very cool bit followed where Régine was on a b-stage scissor lift with a dude in a skeleton costume echoing the chorus of “Oh Orpheus!” with Win and the rest of the band on the main stage. “It’s never over It’s never over It’s never over It’s never over It’s never over” over and over again and eventually morphing into “Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains” to end the main set.
Whatever spell was cast over me in 2010 was somehow lifted last week when I finally saw Arcade Fire again, fulfilling a need that took four full years to work through. That brokenness inside me somehow healed a little bit.Or maybe the scar tissue aches a little less. Or are these just the lies we tell ourselves? I really wouldn’t want to compare and contrast the two concert experiences. Both were wonderful in their own ways, and for very different reasons. When I saw them in 2010, everything seemed new in my life. Four years later, less so. Things seem more worn, more worn out, less certain, perhaps less hopeful? It’s hard to say really. There was a certain sense of coming full circle, of completing something that needed completing, of saying goodbye to a particular longing, and accepting a new reality.
And if the old spell was broken, was a new one cast?
It’s too early to tell, I think. Maybe we will need another full four years to really see how it all turns out.
Although if “Month of May” was a record of how I felt then, perhaps everything feeling “like a reflection of a reflection of a reflection of a reflection of a reflection” is how I feel now.