Ask someone about the major boxing event of 2017, and they’ll probably mention the massive hype, the slew of commercial advertisers, the main parties telling fans to “Put Your Money on Me”, and the expected ending. No, I’m not talking about the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight; I’m describing the spectacle that was Arcade Fire’s Infinite Content tour. I’ve seen Arcade Fire play tiny salsa clubs, neighbourhood hockey rinks, and shopping mall parking lots, but I never expected to see them play a boxing ring. The band entered Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre with white “Everything Now” gym towels around their necks as a mock announcer pronounced the night’s main card weighed in at a “collective 2100 lbs”. A comically large boxing bell was rung, and Arcade Fire began the most arena-ready set of their career.
The night began with the synth-pop anthem “Everything Now” (complete with flute solo) and the cool groove of “Signs of Life”, which sounds like what would happen if the Talking Heads covered The Clash’s “The Magnificent Seven”. Ads for fictional conglomerates and sponsors flashed across the screens throughout the night, advertising everything from Creature Comfort cereal to Everything Now fidget spinners. Never shy to jump into the crowd, “Rebellion (Lies)” saw Will Butler pop in and out from the boxing ring ropes while smashing a base drum. The in-the-round boxing stage setup allowed the band to be the most interactive with their fans since their early days when they routinely played in the audience.
Interestingly, I saw more young fans on the floor than I’ve ever seen at an Arcade Fire concert. For all the mixed reviews that accompanied the release of Everything Now, the album may have ushered in a new legion of younger fans who gravitated toward the band through the radio success of “Everything Now”. I realized the crowd dynamic was changing when the cheers on the floor were louder for “Put Your Money On Me” than they were for “Haiti”.
Another surprise was how comfortable Win Butler has become in an arena setting. Whereas stage banter was limited on previous tours, in Ottawa Win Butler was in an especially talkative mood. “The last time we were here we played this song with Bruce Springsteen, so it feels right to play it again tonight,” he said while picking up a mandolin. “I’ll have to start it like a Springsteen song… a one, two, three, four!” shouted Butler before jumping into the now-classic mandolin introduction of “Keep the Car Running”.
On a more serious note, during a stripped down “Neon Bible”, Win Butler said the band was thinking about all the people suffering in Florida, Mexico, and Houston. “Climate change is real,” he added, “and it’s time we do something about it”. Butler echoed his thoughts for the city of Houston before a touching rendition of “The Suburbs”, written about the Houston suburbs where he and his brother grew up. The line “All of the house they built in the seventies finally fall, it meant nothing at all, it meant nothing at all” took on new significance in the wake of the vicious flooding.
“We Don’t Deserve Love” was the most impactful of the seven new songs played, with Win Butler beginning the song in the audience. Already an incredible multi-instrumentalist, Régine Chassagne added a new instrument to her repertoire by tapping out the song’s bridge on seven glass bottles. I never knew fog machines could be turned up to the level they were at for “Creature Comfort”. Reaching out, my forearm disappeared into the mist and as the faces vanished next to me, it felt like I was the only person there. The fog bombardment continued through the most powerful rendition of “Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)” I’ve ever heard from the band.
For all the fake ads, new theatrics, and boxing ring additions, Arcade Fire closed out their set the same way they have for over a decade with a thunderous and heartfelt “Wake Up”. The demographic and tone of the concert may have shifted from years past, but a full room bellowing the “Wake Up” melody is a feeling that can never get old. When the final boxing bell rung out, the band made their exit through the crowd and were once again embraced as champions.
review by Stewart Wiseman