Oh Montreal, how we all have a love-hate relationship with you. Just last night, you gave us one of the most insane blizzards in years to make us question why we stay here sometimes. Then tonight, you remind why we wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Only here would Arcade Fire be considered a “local band” who would pull together band members from their various projects for a special one-off Benefit show, Kanpe Kanaval, a fundraising gig for the Haiti relief organization Kanpe. Only here.
Upon arriving at Metropolis, it seems like the blizzard which only just finished around lunchtime has frightened off a good chunk of people. The balcony, usually packed out for even a half-full gig, is as empty as I’ve ever seen it, and there’s still plenty of tickets available at the door – that’s certainly surprising given the main event, but those who dug themselves out of their snow holes were rewarded for their efforts. A Caribbean carnival vibe greeted everyone upon arrival, with fancy colourful costumes all around the venue and trails of pennants criss-crossing one side of the balcony to the other. Congolese-Canadian musician Pierre Kwenders is midway through his set, with his blend of African-infused funk matching the theme of the venue perfectly! At the end, a brass band forms a procession through the floor section, getting everyone within 10 feet dancing and maintaining the party between bands.
A slightly chaotic charity raffle follows, which drags on for around 25 minutes (even guest football/soccer player Patrice Bernier and Olympian Naomy Grand’Pierre who draw the names look bored by the end), before the show gets going again in the form of Béatrice Martin, a.k.a. Cœur de pirate, and her grand piano. She jokes that she is about to kill the mood with her sad songs, before proceeding with a very short, 5-song, 15-minute set, including the beautiful Comme Des Enfants, Oublie-Moi, and St Laurent. She’s right, it wasn’t really in keeping with the Carnival mood at all, but her performance was flawless, emotive, and if anything, provided a nice alternative to the mardi gras vibe which had resonated through Metropolis since doors opened.
Shortly thereafter, though, was the main event, introduced by none other than Jason Sudeikis! Arcade Fire haven’t played on a stage in Montreal since 2014, and much has changed in the world since then. Indeed, the first thing frontman Win Butler says to the crowd is ”F*** Donald Trump forever!” before the band open the set with the first live performance of Windowsill since 2008 – a real treat right at the outset.
Of course, at an event such as this, the classic Haïti had to be played at some point, and that duly follows. A moving song at the best of times, in conjunction with a stage full of Haitian dancers and Caribbean percussion, it takes on a whole new life. Regine is a truly mesmerising frontwoman, and keeps her position at the front of the stage as Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) comes next. She flails pom poms in hypnotic manner as the song builds and builds to its grandiose conclusion, before Win resumes vocal duties on Afterlife, finishing the song flat on his back in the middle of the stage!
A brief percussion interlude follows, with traditional bongo drums suddenly exploding into the epic Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), which then blends seamlessly into Rebellion (Lies) and keeps the party in full swing. A cover of Boukman Eksperyan’s “Ke M Pa Sote” performed with Paul Beaubrun and Fwonte follows to return the vibe to a more Island one once again, before this goes straight into Here Comes The Night Time, with its carnival breakdown at the end made for an occasion such as this, absolutely setting the place off as soon as it drops.
The timeliness Wake Up closes out the set in spectacular manner, with one final party thrown as the song changes pace and concludes to a chorus of cheers. Its almost tortuous to be over after only 50 minutes, but served as a great appetizer for what is to come once the new album is complete and the band hits the road once more (so far, only a handful of European dates announced). Personally, it was my 7th time seeing this incredible band – was it the shortest show? Absolutely. Was that a source of disappointment? Not at all; unquestionably, this one was the biggest “Kanaval!”
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Ke M Pa Sote
Here Comes the Night Time
Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Steve Gerrard