Saturday, Day 4 of CityFolk was wild and jam-packed with shows all over. Of the numerous acts playing around the area, I caught Of Monsters of Men, Evening Hymns and Will Butler at CityFolk and Lost to the River, Steamers, Jon Becker and the North Fields, and Jack Pine and the Fire thanks to Marvest.
After a very busy Friday, I was back at it Saturday and ready to go. The day started off with Will Butler, member of Arcade Fire and brother of Win Butler. His solo project is quite different from Arcade Fire, but every once in a while you can hear a little Win in his voice. The electro-pop sounds were very welcomed on a nice sunny afternoon. Opening with possibly my favourite track “You Must be Kidding,” the fun dancy electro moments with female backing vocals sometimes teleported me to watching Handsome Furs live. It was a very entertaining set by a group I hadn’t given enough time to yet. I will fix that.
I had to cut the Will Butler set short because Evening Hymns were beginning at the Raven Law stage. Riding high off the release of their brand new album Quiet Energies just one day prior, Evening Hymns played an absolutely beautiful set. Evening Hymns is the creative adventure of Jonas Bonnetta, and featured talented local musicians John Hynes and Pat Johnson.
They opened with the first song on the new album, “If I Were a Portal” which included a sweet bongo solo by Hynes. Bonnetta wanted to let Ottawa know just how special we are to him. “This is our CD release of sorts,” he said. “We came here before Toronto just so you know,” he added with smirk. The band played more songs off the new album as Bonnetta told stories about the album and specific songs throughout the set. The song that really struck a chord was “Rescue Team.” Bonnetta introduced the song saying that they were about to slow things down, and with such a beautiful and moving song he can slow it down anytime.
As the sun gave way to clouds that kept getting darker and Evening Hymns finishing up, I made my way to The Sheepdogs. Well, for a little bit. I tried to get into it and understand what the huge crowd toughing out the rain were into, but alas I could not. I decided instead to go check out locals Lost to the River instead. Sitting down with friends, sipping on local craft beers and watching the band for the first time since taking on their new sound and new name (formerly Miss Polygamy) was quite nice.
The five piece is led by a charismatic Sean Tansey on guitar and vocals. The band featured some great musicianship with excellent banjo, violin and pedal steel guitar which is always a treat. This was also an album release of sort as the band launched it self-titled six song EP. Great to hear live versions of “Bloody Mouth” and “Eternal Space Trip.”
It was now time for one of the biggest headliners of the festival, Iceland’s best known export since Bjork, Of Monsters of Men. The band was very excited to be playing Ottawa for the first time since forming in 2010. Lead singer and guitarist, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, made sure we knew. “We are so happy to be in Ottawa and we are not going to let a few drops of rain take us down.” They wasted no time playing big hits like “Mountain Sounds,” “King And Lionheart” and “Crystals” in the first half of the set much to the joy of the thousands in attendance. Don’t worry, “Little Talks” made an appearance later. The band played a great set and made everyone it ever rained.
It was now time for me to leave CityFolk and go immerse myself in Marvest. First stop – The Unrefined Olive. Yes, that’s right, an olive oil and balsamic tasting bar where one of our local favourites Steamers was playing. The band was dressed to the nines as many of the six-piece had been to Jon Creeden’s wedding earlier that day. Something about them all decked out and the fact that we were surrounded by fancy olive oils and vinaigrettes really added to the moment. Steamers were on point as always opening with “Years,” and getting the crowd really into it with “Head North” and “Stay Here to Bleed.”
Just as quickly as my time with the Steamers began, it ended as I headed over to Original Burger Joint for Jonathan Becker & The North Fields and Jack Pine & The Fire. We were packed in pretty tight for some great folk, delicious burgers, and crisp local craft beers to end the night. Jonathan Beck & the North Fields also very well dressed, and were very well received by a crowd of people mostly hearing them for the first time. You can’t talk about Becker and not comment on the awesome rasp to his singing voice. He has surrounded that voice and guitar playing with other very good musicians. It was a great set as per usual.
Finishing off the night was Jack Pine & the Fire. The band was playing as a three-piece on this night, featuring acoustic guitar, electric guitar and a double base. They kicked things off with one of my favourite tracks of their’s “Lost in New Orleans.” A great track to set the tone for their performance. The folk and alt-country band were all smiles and thanked the crowd. “This is great, one of the best crowds in a long time.” They also had great news that a new album, the first since 2011, is being released September 25th at St. Albans Church.
This past Saturday, I was one of nearly 35,000 who descended on Montreal’s Parc Jean Drapeau to see Arcade Fire close out their Reflektor tour to a hometown crowd.
At the risk of sounding like a complete fangirl, this would be my seventh Arcade Fire show and my second of theirs at Jean Drapeau, where I saw them headline the 2010 edition of Osheaga. I bought my ticket for Saturday after seeing them in Ottawa last March. I even witnessed them open for Bruce Springsteen in Ottawa in 2007, explaining who they were to my parents when Bruce invited them back to cover “Keep The Car Running”.
I had missed the ball on the fancy-attire-or-costume dress code for the Ottawa show and wouldn’t make that mistake in Montreal. If I had doubts of being the sole jackass who would arrive dressed up, they were quickly squashed when I got near the entrance. There was plumage, recycled prom dresses, glitter and face paint, top hats, masks, and one walking pickle with the most blasé expression on his face that completely won my heart. There were some people that would leave you unsure they were sporting costume or real-life attire (I’m looking at you, powder blue suit guy with the New Balance sneakers). People showed up, ready to let their freak flags fly.
But when it comes to freak flags, nobody flies them better than Arcade Fire. They bounced onto the stage in outfits I can only describe as Saturday Night Fever meets graffiti glow paint meets Caribana meets urban cowboy, and pulled off every stitch and inch of them. While their enthusiasm in Ottawa was palpable, it was downright infectious in Montreal. Close-ups of their faces on the big screens showed them absolutely ecstatic to be home at the end of a worldwide tour.
Things got started with a rowdy rendition of “Reflektor” before immediately launching into encore-friendly hits “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Neighbourhood #3”. I watched heads exploded left, right and centre. These songs? Already? So soon? We knew then it was gonna be a good party.
Arcade Fire’s Reflektor tour has now featured 68 songs, including 35 covers. While the songs in Ottawa were more Reflektor-heavy (from what I recall), the setlist on Saturday was a balance of their best from all albums, almost like they had saved their favourite blend of tracks for last.
The crowd ate up every note. The song that started it all – Funeral’s “Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)” – started playing mid-show and I saw grown-ass men, including Matías of Ottawa Showbox, nearly shed a tear. I kept my cool (sort of) until Régine Chassagne took centre stage for “Haïti” and later “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, where I turned to Matías and Nick, exclaiming “She’s just so (insert expletive here) cute!” “Normal Person” kicked off the encore. Wolf Parade’s “I’ll Believe In Anything” was the night’s cover of choice; the band then launched into “Here Comes The Night Time” to warm up the last of our summer nights, and wrapped it up with the anthemic “Wake Up”.
It was during “Normal Person” that I started thinking about the scathing Washington Post editorial that came out on October 28, 2013, coinciding with Reflektor’s album release and calling them “gigantic dorks with boring sex lives”.
The thing about Arcade Fire is – they are who they are. Sure, no album really sounds the same. They dabble in genres – Disco! Reggae! Late-pop-eighties! – and throw in some Caribbean steelpan drums while they’re at it. They get Spiderman actor Andrew Garfield to portray a transgender person in the video for “We Exist” to the offense of many, including Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace. And they’re unapologetic.When the dress code they issued for Reflektor gigs was met with some backlash, the band issued a brief statement telling fans to “please relax” and the code was “super not mandatory”, with Win Butler telling London concertgoers last November he wasn’t sorry for “anyone who felt uncomfortable dressing up”.
Watching them rock out on Saturday had me wishing I were a part of the phenomenon happening onstage, one of the so-called gigantic dorks. In a crowd of 35,000, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
You keep doing you, Arcade Fire, because none of us in that crowd on Saturday would have wanted it any different. Welcome home.
“Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”
“Joan Of Arc”
“Ready To Start”
“Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”
“Keep The Car Running”
“No Cars Go”
“It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)”
“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
“I’ll Believe In Anything” (Wolf Parade cover)
“Here Comes The Night Time”
These days there is so much music out there in the universe, it feels overwhelming sometimes. A lot of bloggers spend hours per day sifting through countless Bandcamps and Soundcloud accounts trying to find the next big thing. We are not those bloggers. We love new music and will usually give an album a listen if there’s a buzz about it, just to see what the big deal is all about. We don’t, however, claim to be the authority on breaking new bands across Canada or the world. Our purpose and drive is centred locally, and our passion really is seeing music live. For lack of a better cliche, music is the soundtrack to the lives of Matias, Eric, and Joe. We’re the kind of people that feel weird when there’s silence, and usually have music playing in some way or another at all times. None of us would claim to have listened to all albums that were released this year, nor would we claim that this list is exhaustive or exclusive in any way.