Arcade Fire Lights Up Ottawa Bluesfest

Win Butler of Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire - 07-13-2010

Review and photos by Mike Bouchard

(more photos here)

It's 9pm, a half-hour before Arcade Fire is to take the stage before an anxious crowd at the 2010 Ottawa Bluesfest.  As I walked up to the entrance to the photo pit, I didn't know what to expect.  How many photographers were going to show up? 

Last saturday at the Flaming Lips, there was at least 20 or more photographers with big lenses fighting for space to point their cameras while explosions of confetti and giant balloons rained from the sky.  Before Wayne Coyne appeared in an inflatable ball, all of the photographers were pulled into a huddle by the Director of Communications to instruct us on how to behave when the giant ball comes rolling out off of the stage.  He gave everyone clear instructions on how to go with the flow in order to avoid both injury and ruining the video being captured.  The coordination worked like a charm.  All of the photographers moved together much like fish in the ocean and everyone got their shots.

Fast forward 3 nights to Arcade Fire.  The stage had 6 mics lined up in a row, with the tallest in the center, likely for Win Butler, the giant in the band.  His stature mirrors the band's status in the Indie music scene and the respect that he has among his peers after performing with both David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen.  Let's not forget their career boosting performances on David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, and their "Best Alternative Music Album" Grammy Awards for both of their albums "Funeral" and "Neon Bible".

I was the only photographer on the scene and I started to wonder if Arcade Fire lost their fire.  That feeling didn't last long when five minutes later, many photographers started to stream in.  The stream kept flowing.  There was clearly alot of interest by every news outlet covering the Ottawa Bluesfest.  Some ambient music began to ring out of the main speakers and a few spotlights began to shine.  Members of the band began to walk on stage to a very very loud and appreciative crowd, anticipating an epic show.

As the band opened with "Ready to Start" from their latest album "Suburb", I expected mayhem in the photo pit.  There appeared to be more 70-200mm lenses there than at the Flaming Lips show.  I was surprised to find that the coordination between most of the experienced photographers among a number of photographers that were around for the Flaming Lips huddle continued to respect the motion and space within the confines of this very tight photo pit area.

Win Butler and Richard Parry of Arcade Fire

Next was another new song, "Month of May" which had another driving beat behind it.  These seem like a couple of good openers to be followed up by one of Arcade Fire's well known songs from their debut album "Neighbourhood #1".   At this point, nearly every band member had a microphone, a part to sing and something to either play or bang on.  There was a rather larger semi-circle of zoom lenses trained on Win Butler.  Every photographer was gravitated towards the extremely animated Win Butler.

After this, the photo pit was cleared and the band continued their set with the next part "Neighbourhood #2".  I continued to watch from the wings to see what else Arcade Fire had up their sleeves.  They continued playing a variety of songs from all three of their albums.  Wait....they're only on their 3rd album and there are this many people going ape-shit over the band?  How many Canadian bands have seen this kind of success in only 5 or 6 years?

I didn't realize just how animated, energetic, and talented every member of the band is.  Nearly every song saw an instrument change.  Win's bandmate and wife Régine Chassagne swapped between accordian, lead vocals, keys, and drums.  Richard Parry bounced between percussion, bass, guitar, and keys.  Win's brother Will Butler must have played every instrument on the stage while jumping around like he was wearing spring loaded shoes.  The energy expended last night by the members of the band could have probably powered some of the lights shining on the stage.  Every member of the band played some very unique role in nearly every song performed.

I made my way back to the main entrance to meet up with my lovely wife and friends.  I was met with a giant wall of crowd.  I couldn't believe how many people I saw completely engaged in Arcade Fire's performance.  This was a crowd that I've rarely seen gather for one band at Ottawa Bluesfest.  I couldn't move, though Arcade Fire was commanding my feet to move with one caveat. They had to move in one spot.  I had to dance.  From this spot, I was able to enjoy a completely different vantage point while taking note of the incredible feedback from the crowd of (I'm going to take a guess) 30,000.

After returning for an encore and singing Happy Birthday to Ottawa resident Cha Cha, the evidence was clear that Arcade Fire had pleased all of their fans by playing a solid number of favourites while letting them become familiar with the new.  At the same time I have no doubt that Arcade Fire added a very large number of new fans to their club.

Arcade Fire - July 13, 2010 - Ottawa Bluesfest

Ready to Start
Month of May
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
No Cars Go
Empty Room
Crown of Love
Suburban War
Keep the Car Running
We Used to Wait
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Rebellion (Lies)
Happy Birthday
Wake Up