Montreal and Toronto indie kids encourage immigration


Bowery Ballroom

November 11

Bowery Ballroom’s post-election double bill proved the perfect mood stabilizer for a heartsick city, conjuring an atmosphere so sweetly utopian it allowed the true-blue crowd to dream of a United States of Canada.

Toronto’s Hidden Cameras—Jesusland’s worst nightmare—instigated a speak/see/hear-no-evil arm-waving dance to “show us you really want to come to Canada.” (We complied, for the most part.) Meanwhile, Montreal-based CMJ stars Arcade Fire—in particular husband-and-wife co-leaders, Texas-born Win Butler and Haiti-born Régine Chassagne—were nothing less than poster children for immigration. The Arcade Fire’s debut album, Funeral, is a flushed, roiling song cycle full of childhood memories and weather imagery. Given that nearly half the tracks are called “Neighborhood,” it’s fitting that their live show fostered a warm glow of democratic togetherness, from the multi-instrumentalist sextet’s musical-chairs rotation to the unison bilingual vocals as the members all eagerly crowded to the edge of the stage. At once fussy and adorably sloppy, they delighted in their amateur-hour precociousness (with their very own Napoleon Dynamite in helmeted superdoofus Richard Reed Parry). Adding depth and definition to Funeral‘s tremulous lulls and quaking crescendos, they also tossed off a euphoric cover of “This Must Be the Place” in honor of attending fan David Byrne.

Earlier, projecting a disarming mix of squareness and sex, the Cameras sped through their poppers-scented variety of gospel pastoralia, showcased to slightly more fragrant effect on last year’s The Smell of Our Own than on the new, churchier Mississauga Goddam. A ragtag mob of Godspell extras led by semiotics major and pop-art savant Joel Gibb, the Cameras brilliantly tease out the erotic subtext of communal worship and the sacramental aspect of fetishism. Two ski-masked accomplices tossed arcing yellow streamers from the balcony during the polyphonic-pee chorale “Golden Streams,” then climbed onstage to vigorously strip through the remainder of the set. After donning crimson blindfolds to heighten the olfactory kink of “Smells Like Happiness,” they got their biggest reaction with the now-more-than-ever progressive anthem “Ban Marriage,” destined to become the glockenspiel-powered “Strange Fruit” of the fight to separate sex and state. Dennis Lim


‘Lies, Sissies, and Fiascoes . . . Making a New Kind of Radio’

An Evening With Ira Glass

Town Hall

November 7

Red meat was thrown to the overwhelmingly blue-state throng at Town Hall last week when essayist Sarah Vowell, in her helium-inflected voice, introduced the night’s featured performer, Ira Glass, as a “radio god.” Alas, she continued, not actually God, otherwise “the electorate would’ve walked into the voting booth and said, ‘The thing about a hideously incompetent, apocalyptic commander in chief is that you don’t vote for him.’ ” Then the hall darkened completely and the familiar tenor from NPR’s This American Life intoned, “The first thing you have to understand is that it’s radio.” Eventually a spotlight revealed Glass’s white shirt collar and studio pallor as the only exceptions to a blacked-out stage. Seated behind two CD consoles, he began deconstructing his “movies for the radio.”

Glass considers his engaging tales of everyday life as akin to sermons: a series of anecdotes leavened with questions that build to a larger point. In a piece on the military, determined to avoid “flag-snapping” clichés such as “in harm’s way,” he interviewed sailors on an aircraft carrier deployed against landlocked Afghanistan; one of them confessed, “Oh my God, I’m way safer here than in New York.” Heightened by music, sound effects, and the myriad accents of America, these stories, often endowed with finales too implausible for fiction, are easily visualized. But this being a stage show, Glass opened things up by introducing cartoonist Chris Ware, who projected his illustrations for an American Life story about two friends obsessed with preserving Louis Sullivan’s groundbreaking 1890s high-rises. Ware’s succinctly detailed drawings and one-off colors capture these buildings at the cusp of modernity, progressing into scenes of their later demolition that are both nonchalant and sad. From panel to panel, black wrecking balls became comic captions, augmenting Glass’s audio track: “swirls of vines and tree branches, patterns of nature rendered in cold iron, stone, and terra-cotta.” Typical of Glass’s chronicles, the performance had more than one ending—a punchline, a death, an irony, redemption—reminding us that in real life, the mundane has a penchant for veering off into the sublime. R.C. BAKER