Lebreton Flats, Ottawa - July 13, 2010

AEDAN HELMER - QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:31 AM ET

OTTAWA - Bluesfest was burning up both ends of Lebreton Flats Tuesday night with a double-headed snarling monster of Canadian A-list rock, with baroque indie darlings Arcade Fire and post-hardcore punkers Alexisonfire on competing stages.

For fans of Arcade Fire -- whose 2004 breakout Funeral signalled a sea change in indie rock and made their Montreal hometown a music hotspot -- it was a long-awaited and all-too-rare appearance in the nation's capital.

Considering the band make their home 200 km down the road and boast two members with Ottawa roots -- drummer Jeremy Gara and guitarist Richard Reed Parry -- fans in the 613 area have been treated to a mere handful of glimpses, from a 2004 show at the Black Sheep Inn to a 2007 invite-only gig at Canterbury High School to an opening slot when U2 rolled through town.

But they made up for lost time in a hurry Tuesday night, demonstrating how they earned their reputation as one of the decade's most incendiary live acts.

They offered fans an early preview of one of the most anticipated releases of the year, The Suburbs, due to hit North American shelves in two weeks, with the abrupt and aptly-named opener, Ready to Start, followed by the edgy and urgent Month of May.

The first shrieks of recognition erupted from the crowd with the unmistakable opening strains of Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) and Laika, both from Funeral, and a spirited take on No Cars Go, with its joyous "Hey!" shout chorus, from 2007's brooding Neon Bible.

The sound at times evoked the band's '80s new wave, post-punk roots, at other times they reached a little further back into the rock pantheon, their driving backbeat recalling Bruce Springsteen's wild and innocent years.

With eight members on stage each taking turns picking through an onstage pawnshop of instruments -- with two violins, twin drum kits, electric guitars, accordion, xylophone, tambourins -- the effect was never done to excess, each texture a piece fitting into the sonic puzzle.

Frontman Win Butler sang with an unrestrained yearning in his voice, perpetually pushing into the heights of his range, his lyrical themes of disillusionment and urban decay slicing through the wash.

Butler's wife, and Arcade Fire co-founder, Regine Chassange was bubbling over with energy on stage, starting first behind the drum kit before switching to accordion, then taking over vocal duties on the beautiful, swirling Haiti.

But Arcade Fire's magic lies much deeper than the husband-and-wife tandem at centre stage, a true collective where every member is fully involved in seemingly every beat of every song.

Over on the sweat-soaked Subway stage, Alexisonfire came on with a dual guitar attack and pulsating bass and drum groove that formed a wall of sound as thick as Lake Ontario sludge.

From the opening notes of Young Cardinals, the band had the mosh pit a buzzing swarm of consensual violence, as singer George Pettit screamed his vocal cords to shreds while guitarist Dallas Green belted out aggressively tuneful hooks.

Side stages were a smorgasbord of musical stylings through the evening, with the hard-rocking Moneen warming up the stage for Alexisonfire, Canadian chanteuse Sarah Harmer delighting a large crowd with songs of mellow cool beauty, and Alvin Youngblood Hart leading a gritty voyage through roots Americana, with a guest appearance by the first lady of the ukulele, Del Ray, who charmed a small sit-down crowd earlier in the evening with her rousing solo show at the Barney Denson Theatre.


Videos

Photos