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Constantines + The Arcade Fire

(16 Oct 2003: Cabaret — Montreal)

From the newly cold air of fall time Montreal, the crowd slowly made their way into the red glow of La Salla Rossa. One floor below, in the restaurant of the same name, a couple danced to Flamenco music and diners huddle over tapas to stay warm.


Upstairs, the bundled view seemed similar (minus the dancing), as the congregated mass did as they always unusually do in one of the city’s most inviting and vital venues, crowding the back and avoiding the front near the stage unless ordered or properly swayed to move up. Hot Hot Heat managed to get them there, as did Trail of Dead, though many others have not.


Perhaps sensing this, the uniformly dressed (shirts and ties sans jackets) members of the Arcade Fire took it upon themselves to challenge the crowd. Forsaking the stage and taking to the audience with acoustic guitars and an accordion, the up- and- coming local band fought off the talking heads in the crowd with an inspired sing-along and slowly fell into a procession being led to the stage by their drummer, like a pied piper to the happy children of the band.


Fighting off some early sound troubles, the Arcade Fire proceeded to rip through a 45-minute set of songs from both their self-released EP and their upcoming album. If pressed to pick highlights from the strong set, “No Cars Go” from the aforementioned EP went over especially well, as did new song “Wake Up”, which lead singer Win Butler dedicated to the relatively tame crowd still only slowly edging themselves up to the front. Far from an icy reception however, the Fire proved once again to be tightening and honing their fun live show with each opportunity, a fact lead Constantine Brian Webb later brought to light while dedicating his band’s “Young Lions” to them. During the Arcade Fire’s set he could be seen towards the back of the room, nodding his head in approval and dancing intensely though if not slightly restrained, and that is to say, like you would expect a Constantine to do. Nevertheless he later reassured the crowd, telling them they were “lucky to live in a city with one of the best bands in the world.”


All this aside though, the people were there for the Constantines, and any doubt of this was removed the moment the Arcade Fire began taking apart their instruments, as without hesitation the feet of people seemed to move instinctively a few feet forward, crowding the front of the stage area. There would be no mistakes made, the Cons are a band designed for people to care about. There may be little truly original or new to their formula, no gimmick to their sound, no hook that brings people back, but this might be precisely the reason why they’ve struck a chord with many people. As many have said of Webb’s voice, when he howls, he sounds like part Springsteen and part Strummer, yet wholly fresh in a ferocious new beast. While the comparisons could be grating, they do fit, though not only vocally but more specifically for the entire band. Too punk influenced (with Fugazi figuring prominently) to be mainstream or retro sounding, and yet too melodic and classic rock to be purely punk, and that is to say too much like the Clash to be like Springsteen and vice versa. In other words, they seem almost too good to be true.


Tighter than seemingly possible, the band erupted on stage with “Young Offenders” from their debut album and persisted to rip through an intense 85-minute set that included “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel” by the Talking Heads, and a two song encore that incorporated a reassuringly rocking version of Lou Reed’s “A Temporary Thing”.


Watching them gesticulate wildly and manically behind each of Webb’s vocal yelps and tortured facial expressions, you get the feeling this band would disintegrate the Strokes, their clothes, equipment and all their fans if the bands were to play on the same bill. Maybe being from Guelph, Ontario doesn’t allow room for glamour or fashionable poses, but the quintet’s (rounded out now by keyboardist Whil Kidman) almost overly sincere attack on the senses makes thinking of the hype surrounding the aforementioned New York band a laughable thing.


Manoeuvring through much of their newest release, Shine a Light, with equal measures of their self-titled debut, the Constantines played as if they were to be stripped of their instruments by night’s end. Especially inspiring moments were the group’s tackling of title track, “Shine a Light”, album standout “On to You”, and first single, “Nightime/Anytime (It’s Alright)”.


With soul to burn and substantial swagger, the latter even managed to include a “Uh-huh, I feel alright” countdown, a nice nod to the once hardest working man in music, James Brown, which then erupted back into Webb’s incessant howls of “It’s hard not to surrender”. Seeing the man sing with his eyes closed, the young crowd inches from him nodding along with pumping fists, it seems impossible to disagree with him.

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