With their cathedrals of sound, this Montreal collective built a fiercely loyal fan base in the 2000s, a following that counted rock heroes like David Byrne and David Bowie as members.
The band’s sound — a mix of slashed strings, blaring brass, pounded percussion, and Win Butler’s spooked croon — was smart and dramatic enough to earn Springsteen comparisons, and the group’s two world-class albums from the decade (2004’s Funeral and 2007’s Neon Bible) prove that sometimes bigger is better.
Arcade Fire is led by the husband-wife team of Win Butler (a Houston native who moved to Montreal after attending a New England boarding school to focus on music) and Régine Chassagne (a daughter of Haitian refugees who has performed jazz and medieval music in the past). They met in 2003, when Chassagne was singing at an art exhibit, and it wasn’t long before they knew they wanted to make music together. Other participants fell into their orbit and Arcade Fire was born. Jeremy Gara (drums), Richard Parry (bass), Sarah Neufeld (violin), William Butler (keyboard) and Tim Kingsbury (guitar) all helped form the band’s unique sound. Most of the musicians play a variety of instruments on stage, and from the start Arcade Fire was been lauded for its ecstatic shows which often found band members at work in front of provocative video montages.
The band released a self-titled EP in 2003 and reissued it in 2005; its stirring “No Cars Go” would eventually be re-recorded on the band’s second CD. The band recorded their proper debut, Funeral (Number 131, 2005), was recorded after several band members had experienced the deaths of loved ones, which explains the cautious optimism of such tracks as “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” (2004) and “Neighborhood #2 (Laïka)” (2005). The album’s most famous track is “Wake Up,” a weirdly pumped-up anthem about what happens when the grim reaper comes to visit. The song has been played at several U.K. sporting events, and was used to open several dates on U2’s 2005 tour.
Funeral caught the attention of Byrne and Bowie, the latter appearing on the iTunes-only Live EP (Live at Fashion Rocks) in 2005. Expectations were high for the band’s second record, which was cut in a Montreal church refashioned as recording studio. Neon Bible (Number Two, 2007) super-sized the signature elements of Funeral. The album placed highly on several major year-end lists, and Arcade Fire remained a live draw throughout the year. In January 2008, the band released the latest in a series of special interactive video Web sites, for Bible’s “Black Mirror.” Arcade Fire is currently working on its third album, which is due to be released in the spring of 2010.