Montreal-based the Arcade Fire enjoy 'homecoming'
The Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, November 26, 2005
When a band like U2 has been on the road for months, advance word on the show tends to spoil the surprise.
Last night's sold-out concert came late in the North American leg of the Vertigo tour, and there's already a DVD on store shelves from a spring show in Chicago. With a production so huge it required 17 trucks to ferry the gear to the Corel Centre, not much would be left to chance.
Thanks to the DVD and various websites, last night we knew the stage would be a circle with giant oval catwalk emanating from it. We knew that 300 unbelievably lucky fans would make it into the "ellipse" at the centre of the catwalk and we knew that the first three songs would be City of Blinding Lights, Vertigo and Elevation, or some combination thereof.
We also expected Bono to speak passionately on worthy causes, and, because this is Ottawa, the seat of Parliament, we were hoping the politically active Bono would make a statement to Prime Minister Paul Martin, even though Martin was not able to make it to the concert that he helped bring to Ottawa.
Sure enough, Bono addressed his words to the PM during his intro to One, the spot in the show where he's been encouraging fans to take out their cellphones and call world leaders.
"I write the songs," he said as if Martin was in the building. "You write history. Write a chapter now we can all be proud of."
The beginning of the concert unfolded pretty much as expected, except for a malfunctioning lighting rig that not everyone noticed. City of Blinding Lights kicked off the festivities in a shower of confetti and a curtain of shimmering lights. The crowd joined in the countdown to an explosive Vertigo and chanted along to Elevation.
Then came a delirious flashback to the early days with I Will Follow. Though it seemed to end a little too suddenly, Bono picked up the historic thread by mentioning the last time the Irish superstars played the nation's capital.
"It's only 20 years ago, I seem to remember," said the charismatic frontman, dressed as usual, in black, referring to the band's 1985 appearance at the Civic Centre.
Another nugget from the back catalogue followed as the band churned out I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, before they did an about-face into the present with the uplifting rocker Beautiful Day.
By the time the band was wrapping up an extended version of another oldie, Sunday Bloody Sunday, it was shaping up to be a memorable performance.
The crowd of 18,000 was feeling blessed start with, just because they got tickets, made it through the traffic, passed the bodysearch and were in the building. Then to hear so much early material, well, they were absolutely ecstatic. It was a U2 concert designed to please a crowd that hadn't seen U2 in decades.
For the Arcade Fire, a band that wrote an album of songs inspired by death, it was a relief to see them turn their music into a joyous celebration last night. In a way, it was a homecoming for the Montreal-based band as three of the members have roots in the Ottawa area.
During their first of three U2 opening sets -- also the band's final concerts before sequestering itself to make a new record -- the Arcade Fire opened with Wake Up, the same track that U2 used as their pre-show processional. With its sweeping chords also used in the new U2 concert DVD that was filmed in Chicago, the song is now immortalized in U2 history.
Other tracks from the hit CD, Funeral, played during the Arcade Fire's energetic 45-minute performance included the Talking Heads-ish Laika, the intense Tunnels and a tightly focused but still chaotic Rebellion. The seven musicians on stage switched instruments several times, and each time they refocused, a new blast of energy seemed to pour out.
"I know Ottawa is a pretty polite town," said lank-haired singer Win Butler as he introduced Rebellion, "but for this song you don't have to be. It's okay."
Butler also took note of the thousands of people who filed into their seats during his band's set. "To the 10,000 people who just arrived," he said, "Hello, We're Arcade Fire."
For the crowd, it was a brief but intriguing introduction to a band the rest of the world has been buzzing about for most of the year.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2005