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Win Butler used to be a Texan exile sizing clogs at the Porter Square specialty-shoe store Vintage Etc. These days, the 24-year-old Canadian émigré is the songwriting flint that lit the Arcade Fire, the much-ballyhooed Montreal orchestral expo who sing about neighborhoods (four of ’em, to be exact), vampire bites, parents, death, love, lights, and snow. Last Thursday, their sold-out show at the Roxy, the final stop on their 19-date tour, could have been a buzz kill given that David Byrne had joined them on stage the night before, at NYC’s Irving Plaza, for a Talking Heads tune they’d spent the fall re-creating live, "This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)." But it wasn’t, since this was a quasi-homecoming for Butler, who spotted an old co-worker in the house, confessed that they’d stolen their sound person from the Middle East Club, and introduced an unnamed new number by saying he’d scribbled the lyrics while living in a "piece of crap" Cambridge apartment. At one point, the six-foot-five frontman declared with seemingly genuine disbelief, "We’re at the Roxy in fuckin’ Boston!" As if this were the Apollo.

The Arcade Fire are an official five piece: Butler, a former McGill student with a chin-length mop; his multi-instrumentalist wife, Régine Chassagne, a hot Gilda Radner; Butler’s brother and bassist, Will, absent on Thursday; guitarist Tim Kingsbury; and musical polymath Richard Parry, a gawky redhead über-nerd who flipped off an unseen heckler for taunting, "Napoleon Dynamite!" At the Roxy, however, the ensemble totaled seven, including drummer Jeremy Gara, violinist Sarah Neufeld, and bow-brandishing spaz Owen Pallett, who’d opened as his violin-and-voice solo project Final Fantasy. Amid two lawn-ornament-style baby calves tied to the drum set, a rack of polished guitars, and an upright bass, they all filed on stage without fanfare: five men in suit jackets, thin neckties (except for Win), and boarding-school haircuts; two women tucked into simple, black dresses. Think Dead Poets Society: The Musical.

Speaking of carpe diem: in "Rebellion (Lies)," Butler proclaims, "Sleeping is giving in." No surprise then that the rcade Fire delivered every song — all 10 from Funeral (Merge), "No Cars Go" and "Headlights like Diamonds" from their homonymous EP, the new number, and a cover of the Magnetic Fields’ "Born on a Train" — with the urgency of an aural hourglass. "Wake Up," their frequent opener, was a grab-by-the-lapels anthem of choral swells, thunderous drums, and a "You Can’t Hurry Love" digression. "Neighborhood (Laika)" was an imperative plea set to a trotting drumbeat, Gypsy tambourine, and swerve-driving accordion. A mirror ball descended during the ’50s-era school-dance ballad "Crown of Love," and Butler’s movements evoked another dude with little time to spare: Marty McFly at the "Under the Sea" prom. After nearly 90 minutes, all seven grabbed instruments (even the plastic calves), climbed downstairs, and wended their way through the floor crowd like a New Orleans street parade. This, they seemed to say, was seizing the day.


Issue Date: February 11 - 17, 2005
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