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Stereo Freeze 5.05

May 5, 2009

Just some words about Arcade Fire and the Miroir Noir DVD this week. 


Arcade Fire – Wondering, Five Years On.

The following ramblings were prompted in part by a friend’s message from the recent Bloc Party show here in town: “Hot Hot Heat [the opening band that night] are still around!?” I’ll state, even though it’s beside the point, that I didn’t attend this concert because my view of Bloc Party has changed considerably since 2005. My view of Hot Hot Heat, on the other hand, has never changed, but at one time, it has to be kept in mind, they were a big deal in Canadian music.

The initial prompting for this article, though, came after watching the new Arcade Fire DVD, Miroir Noir. How does this relate to Bloc Party and Hot Hot Heat, you ask? Well, this isn’t a comparison of the groups in any significant sense (it’s primarily just because they were all in mind this week), but, just like the other two, Arcade Fire were a big deal for a certain period of time and are now in the later stages of that process. Where they are in the configuration of things these days is what I’m wondering about. Looking at this latest release – a film made about the touring and production of a record that came out two years ago to mixed reviews (despite how many awards it won, etc.) – makes one wonder what they’re up to and where they’ll go next. Not that Arcade Fire have disappeared over the last two years or gotten worse or anything, but nobody seems to be making much fuss about them anymore, and that led me to think a bit about what happens to bands after the hype has died down.

How much did Arcade Fire move you in 2003-04? Right from the beginning they had both critics and listeners on-board. From the first pieces written about their early performances in Montréal and the word-of-mouth buzz surrounding their first EP, it was a constant ascent for them, and was pretty much unprecedented for a Canadian group. By the time Funeral came out, audiences were already there, waiting for them to come and be their favourite band. Canadian music was really happening at that time, and Arcade Fire shot to the top of the pile quickly, and soon, to everyone’s excitement, went well beyond. There was a definite sense, upon the release of Funeral and in the year following, that sometimes the right bands do get the attention.

They have always been a uniquely affecting group, yet have always been somewhat suspect to a lot of people. Many have simply never been into them. By the time Neon Bible came out, they were all over the mainstream, and some listeners who really liked Funeral seemed to have become a bit blasé toward them, which only raised the expectation for the second record. Even though Neon Bible ended up being quite popular with critics and audiences all over the world, it was uneven, and nobody seemed to completely agree on it. The band toured around on it for a while, and at some point in this period, I sort of lost track of them. Neon Bible, I must say, has never fully grown on me, and I didn’t keep with it. Apart from their rocking for Obama, they slipped out of my awareness for a bit, until the Miroir Noir film was announced early in the winter. 

So, what is Miroir Noir? Well, it’s not a documentary, or a performance film. It’s more of an art film done by director Vincent Moon, who is known for his remarkable work with the Take Away Shows on the Blogothéque site, and who shot a film very similar to this one not long ago about the National’s Boxer record. It’s set up by the band being hypnotised at the start, and then flashes through seventy minutes of shots of city lights and buildings and rooms, concert excerpts, footage of the band behind the scenes and in the studio, and performances recorded for the film as Take Away Shows themselves. Interspersed throughout are phone messages from a 1-800 number the band set up around the time Neon Bible was released, featuring callers both praising and deriding the group. The special edition release comes with a disc of performances recorded for television shows in England and America which showcase the band’s ability to perform a bit better than the more spectacular, but mostly truncated performance footage in the film. In the end, the pairing of band and director work out well, for sure, but will it appeal to anyone who isn’t already a fan? Not likely. And is that where Arcade Fire is now? Have they moved into that esoteric, devoted fan-band realm? Are they still Bowie’s favourite band?

Within the first five minutes of this film, it is easy to see both what makes Arcade Fire so great, and what many people don’t like about them. They’ve always been a unique group that make one aware of what musical experience is, whether appreciated or not. The film itself is something that few other groups would ever make, let alone make so engaging, and it does capture that effect the group has. Similarly, the inclusion of (a re-recorded version of) “Wake Up” in a trailer for the upcoming Where The Wild Things Are film adaptation lit many faces up, and brought some of that old effect back as well. Still, though, one has to wonder where they’ll end up. They’re a band that take their time, of course, and we’ll have to wait and see what they do next.

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