My Story: Matt saw Arcade Fire blitz WayHome
Matt Lipson saw Arcade Fire headline WayHome – the band’s only Canada-based festival this year. It was quite the night! This is his story.
In just its second year, WayHome Music & Arts Festival landed one of the most impressive lineups of the 2016 festival season, featuring LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire and the Killers. 40,000 people endured sweltering heat and sunburns, turning the 92-acre Burl’s Creek Event Grounds into their personal playground for three days. Even in its infant stages, the festival has established a completely unique identity, communal and carnivalesque. A Ferris wheel decked in pink and green neon lights overlooks the main stage while signs are held aloft during shows, featuring the faces of celebrities and Pokémon alike. It seemed to me that no other act fit the bill better than Arcade Fire; this was a scene straight out of some Reflektor-themed parallel universe.
Friday night’s headlining show featured the newly-reunited LCD Soundsystem. Despite my overwhelming excitement, I was shocked at how few festival-goers I spoke to were familiar with the band. I was left to convince my own reluctant friends of their greatness, and we were able to walk right up to the tenth row from the stage just 15 minutes before the band were slotted to begin. All those in doubt at the beginning of the night were instantly converted; James Murphy & Co. had the unbelieving dancing and chanting for the entirety of their set, featuring an impressive light show and a setlist masterfully constructed to steadily send spectators into an absolute frenzy.
Whereas many had not known LCD Soundsystem prior to the festival, the buzz surrounding Arcade Fire’s Saturday show was palpable. For many, this was their first Arcade Fire live experience, and while LCD Soundsystem had the task of proving themselves worthy of a headlining slot, Arcade Fire had only to solidify a widely held perception: this is the greatest live band of our generation.
By 9:00 pm, the sun had set and the temperature dropped considerably. By the time the stage lights dimmed and Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” began playing from the speakers, the combination of excitement and a cool breeze on my sweat-caked skin left me with chills. Finally the band emerged to the squealing, suspenseful violin that precedes “Ready to Start,” and by the time the rest of the band kicked in, first-timers were convinced of the great theatre that is an Arcade Fire show. The crowd’s singing drowned out Win Butler’s own voice; a communal, immersive energy marks every Arcade Fire concert, and the festival setting is their ideal venue. Having seen the band four times previously in venues ranging from Montreal’s 200-person-capacity Salsatheque to it’s enormous Parc Jean Drapeau, it immediately became evident to me that Arcade Fire thrives in the festival setting. They looked at ease and thrilled to be playing live shows again, and Win Butler fed off the crowd’s infectious ecstasy.
Donning a white suit, white boots, and long peroxide-blonde hair, Win has fully adopted a unique frontman persona. With each show I attend, I notice an increase in his comfort level as he matches the rest of the band’s antics. Whereas once he looked awkward without a guitar in hand, it now seems to be his go-to mode, dancing and jumping onto amplifiers for dramatic impact. At one point, he grabs the clock counting down the band’s set and smashes it on the stage, elevating the crowd from frenzy to lunacy. During “Afterlife,” he sits on the stage hanging his head sullenly, as if pained to contemplate the lyrics. Strangely, the only onstage banter of the night is taken as an opportunity to urge government grants to young artists. As always, Régine’s spotlight moments, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” and “Haiti” are highlights, providing lighthearted contrast to Win’s urgency and theatrics.
The show is perfectly paced as each album gets equal representation. The Suburbs songs establish a down-to-earth tone, only for the mood to be lightened by the dancier and rhythm-driven songs of Reflektor. The Neon Bible portion of the set begins strangely, with Win casually singing a full minute-and-a-half snippet of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” with little accompaniment, smirking slyly despite his best efforts. The crowd hushes in bewilderment before being rewarded with “Keep the Car Running.” This puzzling moment only bolstered Win’s no-fucks persona, leaving the audience to wonder why he would sing “Born in the USA” in front of a crowd largely comprised of Torontonians. “My Body is a Cage” is a clear standout, finally getting the full treatment it deserves. This was not the a cappella snippet of yore – it was the real thing, with all the self-loathing, intensity and haunting backing vocals of the album version recreated in the flesh. Following Funeral classics “Haiti,” “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” “ Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” and “Rebellion (Lies),” a host of papier mâché bobbleheads from the Reflektor tour fill the stage, joining the band for the frenzied “Here Comes the Night Time.” The song is right at home in the penultimate spot, elevating hysteria levels as confetti erupts and the rhythm kicks into double time. Despite the way the setlist is largely broken down by album, I am stricken by how well older and more recent songs mesh together – “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” into “Reflektor,” “Normal Person” into “Keep the Car Running,” “Rebellion (Lies)” into “Here Comes the Night Time,” – vastly differing aesthetics and points in time, yet each song an essential ingredient to the Arcade Fire experience.
“Wake Up” closes the show in classic fashion without sounding stale. Fireworks erupt, far outlasting the duration of the song. Yet instead of leaving the stage stoically as one might expect, the band stand in a row, marveling at the scene before them: fireworks ablaze, crowd hollering, a bright neon Ferris wheel reflecting off the stage’s mirrored backdrop. Chants of “one more song” prompt Win to ask “is there an a cappella singer here?” before tossing his microphone into the crowd. A woman sobs her thanks to the band for soundtracking her life as 40,000 people cheer in agreement. The horde clears slowly, unbelieving yet wholly convinced – the rumour confirmed.
Thanks very much for sharing, Matt!