Arcade Fire Kick Off Tour with Heart and Soul at Montreal’s Osheaga Festival: Review

The band returns home for a thrilling set dedicated to Foo Fighters' Taylor Hawkins

Arcade Fire at Osheaga
Arcade Fire at Osheaga, photo by Mark Horton/Getty Images

    Arcade Fire pick and choose their moments very carefully. It’s fitting that the Montreal band decided to release their first album in five years, the ambitious and heartfelt WEin a pandemic-affected universe, urging us to relish in the fact that we are still, in fact, alive. It’s even more fitting that Arcade Fire began their extensive WE tour in Montreal, the band’s birthplace, at Osheaga Festival, which is celebrating its first year back since 2019.

    However, Arcade Fire’s appearance at Osheaga on Friday night (July 29th) was a stroke of good and bad luck: originally scheduled to headline were Foo Fighters, who cancelled all their tour dates after the untimely death of drummer Taylor Hawkins. But nabbing Arcade Fire as a replacement headliner is an excellent booking, and their presence at Montreal’s biggest festival was welcomed with hometown reverie.

    Win Butler made sure to acknowledge Hawkins by the band’s third song; before launching into “The Suburbs.” In dedicating the performance to the Foo Fighters drummer, Butler urged fans, “If there’s someone you love and you know they’re going through shit, call them, tell them you love them. Never take that shit for granted.”


    Luckily, Arcade Fire wasn’t taking this moment for granted. The band’s set was a high energy odyssey, with seven of WE‘s tracks represented across an hour and 45 minutes of music. Having seen Arcade Fire twice already this year at their surprise Bowery Ballroom show in NYC and Coachella — two very, very different show environments — I was very curious to see the band in a much larger, more anthemic setting. The massive and passionate hometown crowd was a true sight to behold, and it felt like this was the intended environment for an Arcade Fire show in 2022.

    The band began with tension — opener “Age of Anxiety I” is a fascinating slow burn, with Butler and Régine Chassagne trading dystopian lines and the band working itself up to a psychedelic meltdown. But all that tension dissipated with The Suburbs cuts “Ready To Start” and “The Suburbs” following immediately after. Not only did these song inspire one of the many full crowd sing-a-longs, they’re an enduring pair that epitomize the tense and emotional heart of The Suburbs.

    After a passionate rendition of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” Butler dedicated their performance of Neon Bible’s “No Cars Go” to Josh Deu and Tim Kile, both former members of Arcade Fire. “No Cars Go” in particular was one of the high points of the set, and though it was the only song the band chose to resurrect from Neon Bible, it’s still a powerful, electrifying track — especially live.


    The vibe then shifted to illuminate the supersized disco ball spinning above Arcade Fire, and Reflektor’s standout pair “Afterlife” and “Reflektor” followed. These songs, and many of Arcade Fire’s other disco-leaning tracks, have a tendency to explode with color and energy in their final minutes, lending a dance-punk spirit and a sense of true urgency to the set. The frenetic outro of “Reflektor” feels intimidatingly large and immediate on stage, with Butler and Chassagne’s cries sounding like last words and dying breaths. It’s dramatic, sure, but it’s rooted in a cathartic outburst of energy.

    Which brings us to another one of the set’s high points: “Age of Anxiety II: Rabbit Hole.” Arcade Fire have never been more club ready on “Rabbit Hole,” expanding and contracting at a relentless pace, and begging you to get lost in the song’s hypnotic synths and drums. It’s fascinating to consider the song in relation to Arcade Fire’s earlier hits from FuneralNeon Bible, and The Suburbs — seeing it live, you get the sense that “Age of Anxiety II: Rabbit Hole” is the furthest thematic tie in the arc that Butler and co. have set out to achieve on Reflektor and Everything Now. The disco romps found it both of those records, combined with the existential breakdown at the hands of technology and consumption, is so active and overwhelming in “Rabbit Hole,” that the song has to collapse in order for the band to break free.

    And when they break free, it’s with “The Lightning I, II,” which feels like Arcade Fire’s first step back into their old neighborhood. It should be noted that before “The Lightning,” the band played all nine minutes of “End of the Empire” — there was certainly some great musicianship and a lot of thought given to reflecting its arrangement, but it’s a long, heavy-handed song, and similar to its effect on WE, it definitely deflated the energy of the set (even Butler admitted he was nervous about the crowd’s patience for “End of the Empire”).


    But “The Lightning I, II” — particularly the song’s full-speed-ahead second half — is Arcade Fire at their most vital, one of the high points of WE, and a song that we named one of the best of 2022 (so far). Each sing-a-long of “waiting for the lightning!” on Friday night shows that Arcade Fire are still capable of tapping into that same heartfelt place that characterized their best material to date. After “The Lightning,” Butler took a minute to introduce Dan Boeckner, a new touring member of Arcade FIre and one of the frontmen of the band Wolf Parade. In true Canadian supergroup-fashion, the band proceeded to play a cover of Wolf Parade’s “This Heart Is On Fire,” with Boeckner on vocals.

    The rest of the set featured two of Funeral’s marquee hits: “Rebellion (Lies),” and closer “Wake Up,” as well as a few more essential Arcade Fire jams. But overall, the band’s return to Osheaga was satisfying and fun — there are occasional moments of raw guitar power that seem to reach you in your gut, drum solos that trigger automatic smiles, and group choruses that make believe in the ageless power of these songs. Many of Arcade Fire’s songs seem to revolve around youth, the cost of losing it, the ways in which we rebuild and reconnect after that loss. Seeing them live is a testament to the fact that they may be over 20 years old as a band, but these songs will continue to be a beacon of youth. And at the end of the day, they’re simply fulfilling their purpose: reminding us that we’re alive.

    Arcade Fire’s WE tour runs through the end of the dates, with legs in both Europe and North America. Get tickets here.


    Age of Anxiety I
    Ready to Start
    The Suburbs
    The Suburbs (Continued)
    Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
    No Cars Go
    Creature Comfort
    Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)
    End of the Empire I-III
    End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius A*)
    The Lightning I
    The Lightning II
    This Heart’s On Fire (Wolf Parade cover)
    Rebellion (Lies)
    Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
    Everything Now
    Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)
    Wake Up

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