ARCADE FIRE with KID KOALA at the Air Canada Centre (40 Bay), tonight (Thursday, March 13), 7:30 pm. $30.50-$70.50. LN, TM.
The first half of the last decade must have been a liberating period for musicians. File sharing had established itself as the accepted distribution network, meaning word-of-mouth recommendations could build your name without major-label support. At the same time, YouTube hadn't blown up yet, so a band soaring on the strength of its music could still move in public fairly anonymously.
For instance, when I went to see Arcade Fire at the Danforth Music Hall in April 2005, the band's hype had reached fever pitch, but there they were, sitting in the seats (there were seats then) with the rest of the crowd, watching the openers before climbing onto the stage for a rapturously received performance. It wasn't until they grabbed their instruments that I realized the lanky beanpole sitting beside me was Win Butler.
The freedom allowed by their facelessness let them do charmingly daffy things like busk on the streets of New York City only hours after playing a show with David Bowie.
There's going to be no such anonymity tonight at the Air Canada Centre, despite the likely presence of the giant papier-mâché heads the members have been wearing in the videos and TV spots promoting Reflektor. (Note: if you try to pay homage by wearing a giant head to the show, you're an asshole plain and simple. Keep your costume devoid of headgear.)
Arcade Fire were relegated to opening-act status as recently as 2011 (for U2, but still), but there's no second billing for them any more. They're not just the leading lights of the Montreal or Canadian scene; they are now an Important Rock Band.
The pushback against the band, best evidenced by the weird and visceral reaction to their request that people dress up for their concerts, strikes me as one of those perverse Canadian habits wherein we reflexively disdain international ambition (see Graham, Aubrey), preferring our talent to remain local, inward-looking and deferential.
Never mind that Arcade Fire aren't exactly chest-pounding self-aggrandizers. No Canadian band should have the hubris to be the hot ticket in New York City or headline festivals abroad. Us ordinary Canadians are just bashful lumberjacks: we cut down the tallest tree first and are more than happy to wield the axe when our artists dare to think big.
I don't believe Arcade Fire need to apologize or rethink their approach to stardom, however calculated it may (or may not) be. Even if their media appearances reveal a slight discomfort with the trappings of celebrity (which may explain the fake heads), it's still a celebrity generated almost entirely on the strength of their albums and concerts, not bizarre behaviour, so let's just sit back and enjoy the show.