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music review

Even Rob Ford was there.

While the Mayor of Toronto did not himself appear on stage at Thursday's sold-out Arcade Fire concert at the Air Canada Centre, a costumed take on the embattled politician did. Near the end of a raucous, colourful show, AF front-man Win Butler had some fun with a fellow clad in a sportsjacket who wore what can only be described as 3-D TV cube over his head. All four screens of the cube showed a projection of the mayor's face, while Butler and his bandmates played, sang and danced around him.

It was a witty twist in a night filled with them. Part of the Reflektor tour (the name of AF's current disco-flavoured album), the band's effects-laden stage show was orchestrated meticulously, down to the solitary, stoic disco ball swirling over the crowd of thousands.

Mark Blinch for The Globe and Mail

The clever stage setup, which recalled Jay Z and Kanye West’s Watch The Throne tour by adding a smaller rising-platform stage directly across from the main one, allowed the band to add dramatics like faking out the crowd by emerging on the small, previously unseen stage for the opening song, the angsty My Body Is A Cage.
But if the show started with a bit of angst, throughout there was little else but joy. Body was quickly followed by the danceable new tracks Reflektor and Flashbulb Eyes. This being an Arcade Fire show – the band is known to inspire churchlike devotion in its most loyal devotees – things got anthemic fairly quickly.
Mark Blinch for The Globe and Mail

Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) and Rebellion (Lies), both from the band’s 2004 breakout debut, Funeral, got the ecstatic crowd marching and singing along early in the show. Butler in particular seemed to have great fun on stage, starting off with an energetic hello – “Hi Toronto, let’s go right now,” – which was followed by shout-outs to two local bands: the Hidden Cameras and the recently reunited Constantines. (Talk about your hat tip: the band even covered the Cons’ Young Lions later in the show.)
“It’s good to be home,” Butler enthused while sharing the stage with his 12-person band, including Toronto’s Owen Pallett, a.k.a. Final Fantasy, who contributed strings to the proceedings. The two-hour set, after homegrown openers Kid Koala and Dan Deacon warmed up the crowd, spanned all four of the band’s albums, with The Suburbs’s Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) and Funeral’s Wake Up drawing some of the night’s biggest cheers.
Mark Blinch for The Globe and Mail

The band drew flak earlier this year after it was announced that a dress code would be in effect for the tour. “Please note: NIGHT OF SHOW: Please wear formal attire or costume,” said the official announcement that made waves on the Web. The message was reinforced in fine print on every ticket, but those who grumbled about being dictated to seemed to miss the point. Far from a command, the band’s request was likely intended to be taken as invitation.
An invitation to, say, dress up as a hot dog while eating a hot dog (that happened), or wear matching gold masks for a selfie with your girlfriend (ditto). The glitter-sprinkled, masked masses roaming the ACC made it clear: the band asked the crowd to dress up, come to the show and dance, and thousands took them up on it. (Though the costumed crowd was great fun to watch, it may have been less so for the beer vendors. Signs around the venue asked revelers to “remove any masks, headwear or face paint in order to match identity on valid ID for alcohol consumption.” Sadly, I witnessed at least one despondent birdman thwarted in his quest for domestic brew.)
Mark Blinch for The Globe and Mail

In the hours before Thursday’s show, a Twitter account related to the Toronto Raptors posted a photo of Butler with Raptor Amir Johnson, the former Texan high-school hoop star holding a personalized jersey. (Butler’s love of basketball is well documented. He has even played in the Toronto Athletes for Africa Rock the Court tournament, which pits NBA players and rock stars such as him against mere mortals.)
Later that night, watching Butler during the shout-along No Cars Go hurl his body toward the audience with seemingly boundless energy, sweat pouring down his face, much in the same way – and, of course, in the same venue – that Johnson and co. regularly do, it became clear. He may play the art rocker, but make no mistake: Win Butler is a jock. And on Thursday night at the ACC, he and his team played a perfect game.
Arcade Fire plays the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa March 14.