As I waited in my seat at the Air Canada Centre for Arcade Fire to grace the stage, something caught my eye that I tend to ignore; the electronic banner, advertising various sponsors and upcoming events. I’ve seen quite a few bands at this venue, each more extravagant than the last, but I’d never seen any utilize this as part of their show. It seemed like free stage design to me, but it always goes dark once it’s displayed all of its advertisements.
So imagine my surprise when the banner lights up, not with more advertisements, but with the logos Arcade Fire have used to represent the songs on their latest album Everything Now. That’s the kind of power Arcade Fire have; their presence has taken control of the entire venue. On the night of November 4, the Air Canada Centre was more than a concert venue, it was Arcade Fire’s playground.
It didn’t stop at the banner; even before they took to the stage, their presence was felt. As the crowd filed in, the house lights were already dimmed, in favour of the two disco balls that adorn the boxing-ring style stage in the middle of the arena. The screens above that stage played cheesy parodies of infomercials, each themed after the songs on Everything Now. It’s a neat touch, that plays the album’s social commentary for a kind of dark humour that works well.
The theatrics only ramp up when Arcade Fire finally take to the stage, walking through the crowd followed by cameras, advertised on their giant screens as ‘World Heavyweight Champions’. They opened with the upbeat powerhouse that is ‘Everything Now’, which got most of the crowd on their feet, and they stayed there for the whole show. And what a show it was too Arcade Fire’s brilliant stage show, combined with their stellar output of music and brilliantly impassioned performance created a night to remember. This was the final night of the band’s ‘Infinite Content’ tour of North America, and they pulled out all the stops. A surprisingly large amount of ‘Everything Now’ was played, alongside classics from Funeral and The Suburbs that never seem to get old. The new material holds up against the old very well. ‘Creature Comfort’ was the standout, bolstered by an unfathomably powerful performance it didn’t feel out of place as one of the closers, coming right before ‘Neighbourhood 3’ from their first album. ‘Here Comes the Nighttime’ and ‘Haiti’ were accompanied by a troupe of Haitian dancers, and the band took the time out to mention that a dollar from every ticket sale was being donated to the Knape Foundation for their work in rural Haiti.
At points, the concert felt almost interactive band members would jump into the crowd for certain songs, and an odd fellow in a mirror ball-style suit danced beneath the actual mirror ball for the outstanding ‘Reflektor’. At the end of ‘Wake Up’, the band (along with opening act Broken Social Scene, who joined them on stage for the encore) played the final chorus as they walked through the crowd on their way out. However, the highlight of the evening was one of the quieter moments the screens atop the stage asked the audience to ‘turn on your lights’. The room lit almost entirely by smartphone flashlights, Arcade Fire played a truly powerful rendition of the title track from 2007’s Neon Bible. It’s a quiet and short song, but it was the strongest connection between the band and the audience. In a setlist filled with songs to sing along too (including ‘The Suburbs’, which will never be anything less than superb), that moment stood out as one of the most beautiful.
It’s been 13 years since Arcade Fire released Funeral and made their indelible mark on music. That’s more than enough time for most bands’ momentum to run out, and for their names to start disappearing. But Arcade Fire are still here, still packing the Air Canada Centre with dedicated fans. They’re still around because every album, every tour, every moment of their careers has felt fresh, new and innovative. The ‘Infinite Content’ tour pulled all of those different directions together into a single coherent, brilliant performance. Arcade Fire might not come around as often as other bands, but when they resurface it’s because they’ve made something they put their heart and soul into. It makes them one of the most engaging acts to watch live, and it’s not an opportunity anyone should ever pass up.