THE ARCADE FIRE with the BARMITZVAH BROTHERS and SPITFIRES & MAYFLOWERS at Sneaky Dee's, January 9. Tickets: $7. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Under normal circumstances , freezing temperatures are bad for live shows. Sane folks stay home with a DVD, a duvet and a bowl of popcorn. But when you're dealing with a phenomenal band like the Arcade Fire playing at a tiny venue like Sneaky Dee's , minus-40 weather means an angry army of indie kids end up with frostbite after lining up down College Street because the club reaches capacity far too soon.
Too bad they didn't show up earlier, since both openers delivered solid performances. High-energy rockers Spitfires & Mayflowers have played less-than-impressive sets in the past, but they've pulled it together in 2004.
They've mastered their odd combo of idiosyncratic vocals, pulsating drums and a mishmash of styles from note-perfect 60s garage to hiccupping jagged jangle pop à la Of Montreal and Pavement. It was hard to see the stage through the sea of parka'd bodies, but the Spitfires' explosive energy came through.
While the tunes are packed with hooks, they're weird hooks, sweet but slightly dissonant and twisted. It's a refreshing change from generic three-chord dullsville.
Adorable Guelph kids the Barmitzvah Brothers were totally plugged in for Friday's show - a change from their typical ultra-lo-fi aesthetic. While they were definitely louder and more pro than ever, they had a hard time holding onto the excitable crowd with their quirky indie pop until they invited the headliners (so tall they made bandleader Jenny Mitchell look like a Smurf) onstage for their last tune.
By contrast, the Arcade Fire had no attention-getting problems. From the first soaring notes of Headlights Look Like Diamonds, the band was on, with an insane intensity you rarely see anywhere - let alone at a wee indie rock show on the coldest night of the year.
While frontman Win Butler is one of the best songwriters anywhere, the Arcade Fire's EP suffers from ragged, kinda distant production (it was recorded in a barn in New England) that deflates their massive, cabaret-orchestral tunes. You can't understand the power of this band until you see them live, operating like a musical beast savant with a kajillion heads.
Butler and tonsillitis-battling Régine Chassagne played up their lovers' dynamic with swooning vocal interplay, while bandmates Richard Parry and Will Butler howled backing vocals so ecstatically you could see their tonsils. There was drumming on the pipes above the stage, a transcendental string ensemble and schmaltzy accordion fills. The Arcade Fire squad would start off with a slow, romantic ballad and abruptly change it up midway through, busting out glammy Lust For Lifeish garage licks.
No wonder one fan (Hidden Camera and ex-Barcelona Pavilion member Maggie MacDonald ) begged the band to play it at least twice when Butler announced they could only play one encore cuz they only knew one more song. The screaming audience was practically in tears when the band left the stage.
They'd better play a bigger venue next time they're in town - you don't want to miss this shit.