THE ARCADE FIRE with WOLF PARADE and BARCELONA PAVILION at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Saturday (September 13). $6. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN
I'm always suspicious of couples in bands. Just the thought of lovebirds making moony-eyes over the necks of their guitars and singing their sweet nothings side by side on a stage makes me want to gag.
Imagine perfect rock 'n' roll fairy-tale couples waking up on Sunday mornings and sweating over lyric sheets instead of the New York Times crossword.
"You go first, honey."
"No, you. You know how much I love it when you rhyme."
It's to the point where I have a soft spot for that Nelly and Kelly Rowland duet just because it's about cheating on your boo instead of the bliss that is musician love.
To be fair, some of the best indie rock springs from the loins of romantically involved bandmates: local soul-metal explosion Lullaby Arkestra, trippy dream popsters Hawaii and Stars, even the dating dyke duo in BC depresso-synth outfit the Organ.
But Montreal's Arcade Fire is the lovers' band that's really made me reconsider. The phenomenal post-rock orchestra spins towering arcs of melod, suspended by bridges of guitar, Rhodes organ, found-object beats, kitschy carnival accordion and classically inspired instrumentation.
At the core of this challenging alt/art folk is the chemistry between singers Win Butler and Régine Chassagne. The pair, who got hitched last month, met when Butler was trawling the halls of McGill in search of drummers for his last band. He bumped into jazz singer and multi-instrumentalist Chassagne. Two years later, the artistic honeymoon has yet to wear off.
"Last night I basically kidnapped Régine and forced her to sing with me because she hasn't been singing enough lately," drawls the former Texan eagerly on the line from the couple's Montreal pad. "I woke her up at 2 in the morning and kept playing the guitar for, like, an hour, and I wouldn't let her go to sleep till she practised coming up with lyrics on the fly. Eventually, she'd only do it in French, so I couldn't really understand what she was saying."
The band - which includes core members Richard Parry (also of Bell Orchestre, Parry co-produced the Arcade Fire's recent debut disc), Tim Kingsbury and Butler's brother Will, along with a bunch of rotating guests - has a talent for building up insane chasms of sonic tension in their tunes. And their over-the-top live show must be seen to be believed. It's difficult to describe, but multicoloured umbrellas have been known to appear.
"One of the best ways to write songs is to just sing nonsensical stuff, whatever the hell comes into your head along with the music." Butler says. "It's intimidating at first, because you just say a bunch of crap that sounds stupid. It's just amazing how similar our vision is. Almost always, if something moves one of us, it'll move the other one."
Aw. The thing is, that passionate centre is what prevents the Arcade Fire from dissolving into yet another Godspeed knock-off of art rock wankery. It's impossible not to be bowled over by the call-and-response interplay of Chassagne's Björkish warble and Butler's winsome quaver.
Butler, the grandson of Alvino Rey, an old-timey bandleader who's known as the "grandfather of the pedal steel," started out writing straight-up twangy pop when he first moved to Montreal a couple of years ago. He credits Chassagne's jazz training and this specific arrangement of band members for expanding their sound into more experimental territory.
Their experimental flair lands the Arcade Fire smack dab in the middle of the kooky art-insanity renaissance - think Lederhosen Lucil, Les Georges Leningrad and Arcade Fire pals Wolf Parade - burbling in the current Montreal scene. But Butler's not so impressed.
"I went to so many bad experimental shows when I first moved to Montreal. I've seen some really good experimental stuff, but generally it'd just be some guy straining to play the drums out of time, starting to form a beat and going 'Oops' and clanking on some crap. I just got so worn out with that stuff that I stopped going out."