Arcade Fire brought the suburbs downtown.

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This article was published 23/9/2010 (3877 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Arcade Fire brought the suburbs downtown.

The celebrated Montreal indie rock group cast aside any doubts about their transformation into an arena band with a sound so big it could have filled a venue twice the size of the MTS Centre, where 5,500 fans gathered Thursday night.

Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler performs at the MTS Centre Thursday night.

BORIS.MINKEVICH@FREEPRESS.MB.CA

Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler performs at the MTS Centre Thursday night.

When the group last played here in 2005 they were riding high on critical buzz from their stellar debut, Funeral, and managed to fill the Burton Cummings Theatre with music aficionados and indie-rock hipsters.

Their status has grown by leaps and bounds since then. Their latest album, The Suburbs, debuted at No. 1 in North America and they aren't a well-kept secret anymore.

The eight-piece collective announced their musical intentions right off the bat with the driving Ready to Start. The 100-minute set began with four members lined up at the front of the stage, with lanky main vocalist Win Butler front and centre while his wife and group co-founder, Regine Chassagne, banged out beats behind one of two drums kits.

They kept the energy going with the punky Month of May, crowd favourite Keep the Car Running, Neighbourhood #2 (Laika), which worked its way up to a dramatic climax, and No Cars Go, with its fist-in-the-air shouts of "Hey!" Throughout the set members changed instruments and places -- no two songs ever featured the same instrumentation.

The band is at its best when it's loose and grandiose; when all cylinders are firing the music is inspirational and powerful. Pop music is the heart of the group's sound, but it transcends the genre with an intensity that is impossible not to get caught up in.

Butler even ran into the crowd twice to pump up the fans, who needed little encouragement.

Half the set was devoted to material from The Suburbs, which touches on themes of isolation, coming of age and reminiscing. Visuals of a generic landscape playing behind the band during the bouncy piano title track drove the point home midway through the set when the initial energy waned slightly during a selection of slower material. It turned out to be a short lull before the home stretch, which included the emotional Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) and Intervention, slow-building We Used to Wait, highly charged Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) and rousing Wake Up, which ended the night on a high note.

Tucson, Ariz., septet Calexico opened with a typically strong 45-minute set that ranged from upbeat Tex-Mex anthems to cosmic psychedelia, along with reworked versions of songs by the Clash, Love and Joy Division.

The intimacy of their past club shows was lost in the arena, but the sound mix was perfect, allowing all the subtle nuances of their most hushed material to be heard throughout the building.

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca