Smells like teen spirit, indeed. Specifically, the
unmistakable stench of teenage boy. This is, after all, a high school
But it’s also the site of the first Arcade Fire show in 14
months, the first time anyone outside their immediate circle of friends has
heard their new material, the first time they’ve played in front of an audience
since they opened for U2 at the Bell Centre in their hometown of Montreal.
The opening act, if you will, is a school administrator, which sets a tone of a school assembly, not a rock concert. He reminds the audience how lucky they are to go to this arts-based school, a sentiment that graduate and Arcade Fire member Richard Reed Parry (pictured above) echoes later on in the set. Following the mini-pep rally, the
Arcade Fire take the stage, decked out in spiffy new stage threads and more
than a tad nervous about the first public performance of Neon Bible.
Unfortunately, the set is plagued with sound troubles,
feedback and uncooperative instruments--not entirely unexpected in the dodgy acoustics of a cafeteria, nor for the unveiling of such ambitious new material and an 11-piece band. Not that anyone there cares, or has
even seen enough shows to know the difference. The band is excited to be
playing again, and the kids—well, the kids are excited by everything. There’s
lots of pogo-ing, lots of hippie dancing, lots of friendly crowd surfing, and
lots of screaming anytime there’s an obvious crescendo—or decrescendo, or
anything worth screaming about. It’s so easy to forget the innocent joy of
first love, first concerts—and of course, the first time a world famous band
comes to play your high school cafeteria.
No wonder the Arcade Fire wanted this kind of audience. If
they played anywhere else, there’d be far too many people stroking their chins
and deciding whether or not the new material held up to Funeral.
And for the record, it does. Again, the sound trouble made it
hard to make out any lyrics or any musical subtleties—like the sacrificial
string section, for example. But the strength of new songs like the political
“Windowsill,” the propulsive “The Well and the Lighthouse,” and the triumphant
single “Intervention” were all obvious to even the tone deaf.
The venue is
far from oversold. Though 400 tickets were sold—available only to students and
alumni—the cafeteria is spacious, not at all stuffed. Mild-mannered teachers tried in vain to stifle the legions of amateur photographers who are determined to preserve the event. And this being notoriously polite Ottawa, the school is thankfully devoid of gate crashers.
Which is good, because security is certainly lax. To leave the stage, both before the encore and at the end of the night, the Arcade Fire simply strolled through the crowd into the foyer, where dozens dutifully followed. They happily obliged autographs and questions for about an hour afterwards--no doubt the arts students here took advantage of this unusual take on Career Day.
By far the most popular member of the band tonight, of course, was
Richard Reed Parry, who attended Canterbury High School over ten years ago. Just look at his face, above, and you know that here's a guy who doesn't dread his high school reunion.
I spoke with Grant Lawrence earlier tonight. Here's the clip:
Photo by Helen Spitzer
on Jan 19, 2007