Concerts Concerts Arcade Fire and Janelle Monáe Bring Joy to Thousands at Toronto's Island Show

Arcade Fire and Janelle Monáe Bring Joy to Thousands at Toronto's Island Show

Arcade Fire at Toronto Island
Arcade Fire
Janelle Monáe, The Sadies
Toronto Island Park in Toronto, Ontario
August 14th, 2010

Review by: Jen Polk
Photos by: Amanda Fotes

The Toronto Island Concert was one of the summer's most anticipated events. Headliner Arcade Fire was reason enough to head beyond the mainland; when Janelle Monáe was announced as support, the show went from recommended to highly recommended. The bands, plus local openers The Sadies, did not disappoint, nor did the weather or the crowd (mostly). One can't ask for much more in a large outdoor concert.

Arcade Fire

I'd never seen Arcade Fire before. In fact, I'd managed to mostly ignore them until the release of The Suburbs, their brilliant new album. The reason is simple and uninteresting: I wasn't into music back when they first broke out and subsequently became the talk of the indie music world. But now, count me among the band's fans. This show provided ample evidence of the group's appeal.

From the moment the band started playing, their abundant energy was apparent. And the men and women on stage — all eight of them — didn't let up for the next hour and a half. The setlist was heavy on new tracks, beginning with "Ready To Start" and "Month of May." Fans familiar with their back catalogue sang along during "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)," the hit "No Cars Go," and "Haiti," which was greeted with excited cheering. By now lead singer Win Butler was soaked through in his own sweat, and I'd noticed his brother, multiinstrumentalist Will Butler, display the most active playing of any musician I've ever seen. No matter what instrument he was playing, I could count of Will to keep me visually entertained throughout the set. A large screen upon which prerecorded videos, images, and live shots of the band were projected added much to the concert's atmosphere. 

After "Haiti," silver sparkle-clad singer Régine Chassagne went back behind the drum kit and we were treated to a string of new songs: "Modern Man," "Rococo," and "The Suburbs." The latter two are especially great songs, and were real tours-de-force live. And I admit to singing along during "Rococo," and dancing during "The Suburbs." No shame in that. Let there be no doubt, though — this is a serious band, which tackles important issues in its music. Case in point: the next tune, "Intervention." The main set continued with Funeral's "Crown of Love, Neon Bible's "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" — neither of which excited me as much as other songs — but the band got itself back into my good books with The Suburbs' "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)." Yeah, I really like the new album. The synth lines are great. The crowd cheered the arrival of "We Used to Wait," and sang their hearts out to "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)." The climax of the set was "Rebellion (Lies)," during which the excitement around me was palpable. The band came back for a two-song encore, "Keep the Car Running" and "Wake Up."

Well, that was a show. The people around me managed to mostly avoid enraging me, and the weather held up. I'm not sure big shows are for me, but mad respect to the band for making this outing worth the trek (and 2.5+ hour wait to get back to the mainland afterward).

Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island   Arcade Fire at Toronto Island  

Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe made her Canadian debut in the middle slot. An hour before sunset, her band members came on stage, decked out in black and white, introduced by classical music playing in the background. Three hooded figures then appeared; one of them was Monae, who soon threw off her covering and immediately started rapping. The theatrics continued throughout the set, with some choreographed numbers by her backup dancers, and a few wildly entertaining moves by her keyboardist and guitarist. Despite the absence of any projections, the set was visually impressive. The black and white donned by the performers made a more striking impression than I would have imagined. The theatrics would have worked better later in the day — it was still very much daylight when she performed — but that's only a reason to go see this band in darkness.

Songs included "Faster," "Cold War," "Tightrope," "Wondaland," and a cover of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" sung with only guitar accompaniment. The woman can really sing. (She recently sang it for Billboard.) Guitarist Kellindo Parker proved his playing skills match his bandmate's vocal chops on a few occasions during the set. Monáe can also dance and is a fantastic performer. It would seem the only thing she couldn't do was keep her elaborate hairstyle from half-collapsing mid-way through her set. From soulful pop and dance-y funk to her beautiful, serene rendition of "Smile," the performance was a feast for the ears. Oh, and I'd be lying if I didn't say I wasn't taken by Monáe's hotness. Damn.

Janelle Monae at Toronto Island   Janelle Monae at Toronto Island   Janelle Monae at Toronto Island   Janelle Monae at Toronto Island   Janelle Monae at Toronto Island   Janelle Monae at Toronto Island   Janelle Monae at Toronto Island   Janelle Monae at Toronto Island  

The Sadies

Toronto legends The Sadies put on a rousing performance, playing songs off their latest album (Darker Circles, 2010) as well as older favourites. Brothers and guitarists Dallas and Travis Good welcomed their mother on stage to sing a couple songs. The set showcased the band's impressive musicianship, but the setting — outdoors in the sunshine — did not allow for their country, rock, and surf tunes and to have the same effect they do in a darkened club late at night. The band has been headling the Horseshoe Tavern's New Year's Eve party for several years running. Saturday's performance was never going to make the same impression on concert-goers as those epic nights surely do.

The Sadies at Toronto Island   The Sadies at Toronto Island   The Sadies at Toronto Island   The Sadies at Toronto Island