I had a number of shows to attend during this Calgary trip, but this was the anchor, the one that made me book the trip when I did.
I’d never seen Arcade Fire before. I only ever had one chance – they played the Odeon in Saskatoon back in… 2005, I think. Give or take a year. I didn’t pick up tickets immediately because I was supposed to spend the weekend in Canmore with family and I wasn’t sure I’d be back in time. I got back to Saskatoon from my trip around suppertime on the day of the concert, so we could have gone, but it didn’t matter; tickets had sold out pretty much instantly. The next day, I went to a record store and chatted with the owner, who said “I hate to tell you this, but they released last-minute tickets and they were available at the door.” So it goes.
I could also take this time to complain that on that tour, they intentionally left a day between Saskatoon and Winnipeg to do a show in Regina, and nobody would book them. Which neatly sums up one of my prime complaints about Regina and why I time these trips to coincide with concerts.
Delightfully, Colin was game to take in this concert with me. Less delightfully, because this trip got scheduled so late, there weren’t a ton of great seats left. I got us a pair of the cheapest seats in the building, which I believe were still more expensive than the Odeon tickets from a decade ago. At least we were in the doors.
I made plans to meet Colin at 5:30 at Wurst, the German restaurant across the street from my grandma’s place. At 5:32, I was walking there when I saw Colin wave at me from his car, where he was stuck in traffic. I offered to race him there. I mention this because I won.
I hadn’t had German food in decades. The restaurant has been there for years and I’d never been, because eating outside the home would offend my grandma to no end. She’ll tolerate it if I’m meeting someone, but only barely. I still haven’t gone to the Indian restaurant next door and it’s been there for as long as my grandma’s lived here. Anyway, I got a schnitzel BLT (which is a normal BLT with a schnitzel also on it and you probably guessed that but did you know it was on grilled sourdough, smart guy?) and a side Caesar salad. Very tasty. Colin had a brat on a bun with soup and he said it was good, so thumbs up all around.
I’d assumed we’d walk to the Saddledome, but Colin wanted to try driving since he’d heard about a free parking trick. I was fine with this since I’ve done a ton of walking this week and my plantar fasciitis is making itself quite known. I won’t spill the beans about Colin’s plan, but I will confirm that it not only worked, but we got out of there afterwards with minimal hassle.
We showed up just as the openers, Phantogram, were starting. We got to our seats (past many signs warning us of strobe lights and “theatrical smoke effects”) and really, they weren’t that bad. Meaning our seats. And also Phantogram, I suppose. We weren’t very close, but we could see the stage and hear everything well enough. The band was playing in the round, so we were even closer than I was expecting. There were also big screens, but they didn’t help because the band was basically exactly the same size on stage as they were on the screens, plus the screens had video effects on them so they were actually worse than just watching the stage. Whatever – I thought this was more funny than anything.
I told Mika that I didn’t think I knew any Phantogram songs, and she said “yes you do, idiot.” Possibly not in those exact words. Okay, I thought I knew one song – You Don’t Get Me High Anymore. Listening to them in concert, I’m still pretty sure I only knew the one. I mean, there were a number of songs that sounded kinda familiar, where I was waiting for a recognizable chorus that never came. Maybe I’ve just heard enough Garbage and Evanescence and other electronic-influenced rock bands with female vocalists that I hear similarities where none exist? Colin actually knew a few of their songs and so he was basically a superfan by comparison.
My general take on Phantogram was that they were pretty good in a way where I know I’m not likely to ever go out of my way to seek more out. I mean, I enjoyed them, but I know me. I don’t make enough time for everything that I really enjoy as it is. But like I said, this was good, the sound was decent, they played the song I knew, their light show was impressive. No complaints.
As soon as they were done, a cowboy with a galaxy for a face appeared on the big screen and asked us for another round of applause for Phantogram. This completely baffled me. The cowboy would return several times throughout the break to shill t-shirts and spout bizarre non-sequiturs (“Let’s hear it for junior hockey!” or my favourite, “I can’t legally ask if you’re ready to rumble, but I hope YOU AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARE!”). I think the cowboy may have been Colin’s favourite part of the evening. There were also weird symbols on the screens around the arena, and the screen would show ads for shirts at 100% off with an infinite time warranty – all part of the experience of this, the Infinite Content Tour.
Because the band was in the round, they had to enter down a long aisle like at a wrestling or MMA show. And in fact, they mocked up the stage to look like a boxing ring and came in to a boxing-style introduction. Apparently, Arcade Fire weighs, collectively, 2,100 pounds. If Dave ever reads this, he’ll call bullshit because how can they only weigh 2,100 pounds when they have 62 band members?
I counted 9, for the record. No sign of Karnov.
I have a weird relationship with Arcade Fire; namely, I think they’re all very talented and I love their songs, but they can also come across as artsy and pretentious and if someone punched them, I’d understand. I don’t condone it nor do I want to do it myself, but I’d understand.
All of this went out the window before the first song was done. I mean, I’m not surprised that these guys were really good, but… these guys were really good. Super talented, very versatile musicians who played (and traded) a wide range of instruments all through the night.
The band has a great stage presence too. This was a spectacle; from a visual standpoint alone, it was never not entertaining. Just to keep things interesting, they also have possibly the best big rock light show I’ve ever seen, along with a constant stream of new and creative video effects on the big screen (while still devoting lots of time to letting you actually see the musicians).
They did take the boxing ring staging down after a few songs, which was a relief, since one of the band kept bouncing off the ropes like in wrestling but those ropes were way too loose to do that safely. Dude’s gonna fall one of these days.
As for the songs, there was a big focus on their new record, of course, but there was a nice selection from all their albums. Tons of hits, but lots of variety in general. The fourth song was Here Comes the Night Time and it is not what comes to mind if you’re thinking of a song that would blow the roof off a place, but they did it. Keep the Car Running might be my favourite Arcade Fire song, which I only realized when I saw how delighted I was when they started playing it. There was a killer version of Reflektor, they closed the main set with Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) and the encore with Wake Up… much like I felt after the New Pornographers concert, this show really hammered home to me just how much great music these guys have put out. And some really anthemic songs, which I’m totally a sucker for.
Here’s the whole setlist for anyone who cares about such things:
Signs of Life
Here Comes the Night Time
No Cars Go
Put Your Money on Me
Infinite_Content (setlist.fm says this was the first time they’ve ever played this song in concert)
Good God Damn
Keep the Car Running
Crown of Love (first live performance of this song since 2014, according to setlist.fm)
The Suburbs (Continued)
Ready to Start
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)
We Don’t Deserve Love
Everything Now (Continued)
They left the stage and walked to the back, still playing instruments while the crowd sang the singalong part from Wake Up. So yeah. This was great and Colin thought it was great and I’m pretty sure everyone there thought it was great. It made me more sad about missing that concert at the Odeon and I hate the Odeon. This was a dang fine show in what’s turning out to be a year full of them.