We arrive in Sackville, New Brunswick, to sunshine and warnings of shark attacks. First we see it on the sign of the community rink: “Sappy Fest! Shark Attack!” If we still had doubts, they were obliterated upon arrival at the main stage tent. Emblazoned across its front, in large black letters: “SAPPY FEST! SHARK ATTACK!” Sappy dreams are coming true.
The Woodshed Orchestra start the party in the tent with their mix of groovy funk and soulful spirituals, which has the audience dancing, raising hands and singing along in harmony. Daniel Romano and his band play denim-clad country blues, with Misha Bower and Julie Doiron providing haunting backup vocals. Daniel and Julie sing Down by the Weeping Willow, recalling last year’s show with Fred Squires, but here the song is strengthened by Romano’s stellar backing band.
A large crowd gathers at the front of the stage for Owen Pallett in preparation for the imminent attack. He appears with his band Les Mouches, who are jaw-droppingly good – a requisite if performing with this violin virtuoso. The drummer is especially impressive and frenetic, keeping time as Pallett plays pizzicato at lightning speed. Pallett is animated and enlivened by the audience, jumping from his synth to his violin, giggling at flubs only he can hear. This is the Dream of Win and Regine is a harbinger of the band to come, and his cover of Caribou’s Odessa shows us that he can do anything with his violin. Lewis Takes off His Shirt is the dazzling closer, with its layered violin loops, a racing tempo and a choir of Sappygoers howling, “I’m never gonna give it to you!” But we do. We give it up hard for Owen Pallett et Les Mouches, sending him offstage on a wave of applause.
At this moment the audience triples in size, and the anticipation is palpable – sweaty bodies of shrieking fans pressed together from the front of the tent to the very back. By now everyone knows: Shark Attack = Arcade Fire, playing a secret, pseudonymous show to evade contract restrictions (they played Halifax on Thursday and Moncton on Sunday, with U2).
It’s impossible to fully grasp Arcade Fire mania until you see them perform outside of Montreal. The crowd is amped. People are “dying,” “about to pee their pants,” and ready for their lives to be complete after they see these “beautiful, superior human beings” perform. This kind of thing doesn’t happen in Montreal, where the band members are friends, neighbours and/or at least regulars at your local café.
But holy hell, what a show they give to us Saps, on such a little stage. It is raw, sweaty and explosive. They open with Ready to Start, followed by a version of Laika that is filled with wild roars and high jumps and drums thrown up into the air. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) is a great song to dance to. Regine charms like a witch, waving coloured ribbons and casting spells over the crowd with her sparkling, gloved hands. A stray breeze wafts in during No Cars Go, as we all sing “Between the click of the light, and the start of the dream.” Exiting the tent after the encore, Wake Up, we wonder: Was it all a dream?
Photo by Patrick Callbeck