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Arcade Fire Play Incendiary Surprise Show in Toronto

Forget Bonnaroo, on Friday night the hottest show on earth was not in the fields of Manchester, Tenn., but rather at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall, where Montreal’s prodigal sons the Arcade Fire staged the first of two surprise shows.

The concert was only the group’s third official show in two years and was the culmination of nearly a week of anticipation which began on Tuesday evening when the band posted on their official Twitter account, asking Toronto fans if they had “any plans for this weekend.”

“Thank you for coming out on short notice,” co-bandleader Win Butler told the raucous crowd, some of whom had been waiting outside the venue since 8AM. “We tried to call you but your answering machine was full.”

Returning to the same venue that played host to their Pitchfork-hyped ‘Funeral ‘ victory lap just over five years earlier, the Arcade Fire that played last night were far from the eager, bright-eyed indie-rock idealists that held court in 2005, and the material the band showcased off their forthcoming third album,’The Suburbs’ reflected that. Save for the set’s opening couplet of ‘Ready to Start’ and ‘Month of May’ — whose Queens of the Stone Age-esque propulsive energy works wonders in a live setting — the new songs are more subtle than any of the band’s earlier work. Showing refined maturity and confidence as songwriters, tracks ‘Suburban War’ (whose epic conclusion finds Butler screaming, “All my old friends, they don’t know me now”) and ‘Modern Man’ exposed a more groove-driven side to the band, nodding to the restrained work of subversive groups like New Order and the Clash. While the new songs may lack live bravado, they should reward with repeated listening on record.

The group’s familiarity with the older material allowed for a tighter, less spontaneous feel to live staples ‘Tunnels’ and ‘No Cars Go,’ but it’s hard to deny the incendiary one-two punch of set closers ‘Power Out’ and ‘Rebellion (Lies),’ the latter of which saw Butler propel himself into the crowd before admitting that he couldn’t remember some of the lyrics.

Similarly, the poignant version of ‘Funeral’ stand-out ‘Haiti’ — sung by Butler’s wife and co-bandleader Régine Chassagne, whose parents immigrated to Canada from the war-torn country — hung heavy with social significance and served as a reminder that a dollar from every ticket purchased for the evening would go to the band’s charity of choice, Partners in Health.

As always, the set closed with Spike Jonze favourite ‘Wake Up.’ Its blood-warming chanted chorus proved crowd-pleasing and provided an inclusive finish to a beautifully executed evening of songcraft and showmanship.

“We’ve played some of our favourite shows in Toronto, but Jesus Christ, do you guys ever keep it close to your chest,” Butler half-joked towards the end of the set. “Do you like us? Do you like us?”

As evidenced by the raucous crowd response, indeed they do.