Neon Bible is opened in a church basement
Or plugged in, I guess. Friday night the Arcade Fire debuted a chunk of material from the forthcoming Neon Bible at Canterbury High School in Ottawa, (the alma mater of band member Richard Parry). But it wasn't until Saturday that the big fluorescent bible itself hung above the band as they belted out new songs--this time in the basement of the big Polish Catholic church that hovers over Mile End in Montreal.
Originally planned for Thursday night, the Montreal show was packed with about 400 friends and folks from the neighbourhood (including the perogie guy!), with the band running through 12 songs. They were:
Black Mirror, Keep the Car Running, No Cars Go, Black Wave/Bad Vibrations, My Body Is a Cage, Ocean of Noise->Rebellion, Intervention, Joe Simpson, The Well & the Lighthouse, encore: Haiti, Power Out.
The room felt surreal at times, it having been so long since the band had graced any nearby stages (save of course Thursday's high-school only affair), with no one quite knowing how to react, wondering if it was real. It seemed almost like Funeral could have never happened; that they were another local band hoping that this might be the show to take them to that next level. It's not easy to come back from the dead...from Hades (one would assume that's where they've been, right?) Everyone expects you to have brought something back with you. Isn't that the question on everyone's lips? Just how will this band follow-up one of the most well-received debuts, um, ever?
Well yes and no. In some ways, it just seemed nice to have them back. Old live staples in the set were sparse but of course welcome, and "No Cars Go" (which I'm asuming was entirely re-recorded for Neon Bible) definitely had a handful of interesting tweaks. No one would have complained had they come out and played a short set of crowd-pleasers and one or two new songs, but there's nothing I like more than seeing a band stick its neck out for new songs and new ideas (and there were plenty of both).
I'm sure there are a thousand people who can't wait to compare Neon Bible to Funeral, but I won't be one of them. Funeral was a perfect storm and everyone knows it's story by now. Tonight marks the first time I've heard any of the new songs save "Intervention" and "Black Mirror", but I can say this: Neon Bible will definitely make for lots of good reading.
"My Body is a Cage" was a beautiful slowly building piece with smart subtle lyrics and maybe my highlight of the set. The sound in the room wasn't perfect, but both "Keep the Car Running" and "The Well & the Lighthouse" (a waltz-like epic apparently based the Fontaine's fable "the Wolf and the Fox") showed plenty of potential, both as studio gems and big room triumphs. My other peak of the night was a song more than one person suggested was a Bruce Springsteen cover, but which I can't for the life of me place in his ouevre (anyone?). The band seemed to refer to it as "Joe Simpson" (Win muttered a barely audible line about 'Joseph Simpson' as it began), and while it certainly echoed the Boss in its rambling-man grandeur and lines about working 'in a building downtown', it also had lines about planes coming two by two and a little girl being a bird in a cage, singing to get her daddy a diamond ring. Maybe Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about Joe Simpson the famous mountaineer and I've never heard it, but I kind of suspect Win Butler wrote a song about Jessica Simpson's uber-creepy father Joe. And maybe this is your "(AntiChrist Television Blues)". Maybe I'm wrong. Either way, it was as big and beautiful and sad as any song I've heard. A working American man's anthem, in the basement of Polish catholic church in Montreal, with a big neon bible at the back of the stage...