Artwork & Content by Enrique Llamas, Contributing Partner
There are a lot of things that I enjoy about music, but one of the things I enjoy the most is definitely the experience of going to a live concert. The whole experience is always an adventure, from buying the tickets, planning the day around the concert, the excitement, the people, the energy.
In the history of modern music there are a few concerts that have become legendary, sometimes for the amazing musical performances that took place there, sometimes for the meaning it had in the political and social context of its time. These are the concerts you read about in magazines, books or watch in documentaries.
But there are also the concerts that only a few people know about, the ones that become a myth, those stories you tell your friends and they look at you with some envy and skepticism.
I am going to tell you my story about one of these concerts. The story about that time Arcade Fire played in a small, dusty baseball field in a little town in Mexico.
I’ll give you some context first:
There is an issue in Mexico–if you like rock, alternative or indie music, all the big concerts and events always happen in one of the three main cities in the country: Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey. There are exceptions, of course, but they are really weird. The weirdest one probably happened in the same city that hosts this story.
In the early 90s, at the beginning of their career (just after ‘Pablo Honey’ was released), Radiohead played a gig in a small bar in Guanajuato in front of a few dozens of people, a lot probably didn’t even know who they were listening to. A few posters of the event and a story that has been passed as a myth are the only records that exist of that concert.
Guanajuato is a little colonial town, capital of the state of Guanajuato (and once in the XIX century also capital of Mexico for a brief period of time). It has a really young and live vibe thanks to its University, which is home to thousands of students. To be fair, the city is actually well-known in Mexico as a tourist destination and because it holds the biggest cultural festival in Mexico and Latin America: The “Festival Internacional Cervantino.” It is also for a week home of the second largest film festival, so the city is used to cultural events and being visited by famous people every now and then. Despite all of this, it still keeps a quiet charming small-town atmosphere.
It was actually at the beginning of the Festival Cervantino that Arcade Fire visited Guanajuato. They had announced their tour dates in Mexico City and Guadalajara just a few weeks before. Mexico City was too expensive and my cousin invited me to go with her and a friend to Guadalajara, so I agreed and bought my ticket immediately. At this point I felt really happy that I was finally going to see one of my favorite bands, I couldn’t ask for anything more from life, but then…
I got a message from a friend: “Arcade Fire is coming to Guanajuato.”
At first I thought it was a joke, a bad joke. How could this be? Arcade Fire, the biggest band of the decade was coming to Guanajuato? Where did they plan to play a gig? They just played in Mexico City for a 20,000 people audience!
I was in total disbelief, but still I decided to go with the flow, and after a few minutes of fact checking on the internet, I was facing the truth. There was a band on the Ticketmaster website called Arcade Fire, scheduled to play in Guanajuato at a Baseball Park named ‘Aguilar y Maya’, tickets were for sale at only $500 pesos (around 20 USD, probably 40 USD in 2010), which was half of what I had already paid for the concert in Guadalajara.
It was the fastest credit card draw of my entire life. Two minutes later I had my ticket to the concert and I was ready for whatever I was supposed to see there.
The day of the concert came, we got into my friend’s car and made the hour drive to Guanajuato. The city was as quiet as usual, no signs of a Big Awesome Concert anywhere. We got to the baseball park. Nothing. Not even the usual stands selling concert t-shirts and memorabilia. Just a few people who looked as shocked and confused as I was.
The ‘baseball park’ looked like shit. It was a small, old baseball park that mostly was used to hold gigs and ‘bailes‘ for Norteño bands. The floor was mostly dust, no grass at all.
When we got into the place there were maybe only 50 other people there, and, thank god, a beer stand! The main stage was already set, some instruments were there too.
Is this going to be a joke or not?
The beer stand was at the bottom of the place, probably about 25 meters from the main stage. I walked there with my friends and had a large beer. From there you could see the stage with no problems. The place started getting ‘crowded,’ I think we were probably 900-1000 people, tops. You know how you fight in some concerts just to find a nice spot where you can watch your favorite artist play? That was not going to happen here. Literally every spot was a good spot, well, besides the obvious spot of being in the front, next to the barricade.
After a few minutes a guy stood on the stage, he had large saxophone on him. The lights went off and he started playing. After a few seconds he had all my attention, my mind was blown…
The name of the guy: Colin Stetson. I’m a fan of his work since that day. He played for 45 minutes non-stop and it was awesome. Also, seeing him there was a bit reassuring on the possibility that Arcade Fire might come out to that stage at some point.
Colin left, I had another beer to process what I just listened to. The sound guys came in and out, tuning instruments every once in awhile, making signs to each other with their hands. The minutes that came after that stretched more than I would have wanted. Everyone was just standing there looking to each other every, waiting for a clue or a sign or something that would tell us we were not in that dusty baseball field just to be disappointed.
And it happened.
The lights went off, I honestly can’t describe how I felt in that moment. I think I was shocked, I can’t really remember in detail what happened. We saw some shadows getting on stage and into position. Suddenly some synth and violin notes start breaking the silence, the first notes of ‘Ready to Start’ explode and everyone just loses it. It was real! And we were there to watch it!
I’m not sure if the band knew where they were going to play and if they were aware that the crowd was going to be so small. You could see they were surprised in some way, but also they had these big smile on their faces, they were enjoying it! I can assure you–because I saw them again a few days later–that they played with the same energy they play every gig, for some moments even more, maybe because they felt a bit relieved; for them, this was a break, and for us this was a gift.
The songs kept coming, hit after hit: “Keep the Car Running,” “Neighborhood #2,” “No Cars Go,” “Sprawl II.” The dust from the baseball field raised over our heads from the constant jumping and dancing. They were making a solid concert, it was surreal and all the people there knew in our hearts we wouldn’t see something like this again in our lives…this was EPIC.
After more than an hour playing, and lot of emotions spilled in every song, the band left the stage. We knew they were coming back, we knew how this had to end, they just needed to grab some air to finish us. They came back, the organ started playing, the chords of “Intervention” filled the place. We stood there, singing with our hearts out, slowly it all led to an ecstasy when ‘Wake Up’ started playing.
Needless to say, we were barely 1,000 people there but it felt like 10,000. Eyes closed, hands up in the air, making every second of this surreal experience last forever. The song ends and everyone is in tears. Win gets down the stage and starts walking into the crowd, he’s two meters away from me. I look at him and think, “shit, I don’t deserve this”, I had more than enough with this concert. Also I’ve never been the type of fan who runs behind his favorite artists. So I just walked away. A few meters ahead I was already regretting that decision: You idiot, it would have been nice shaking Win’s hand!
I meet with my friends outside the field, we’re all smiling. A friend tells us his girlfriend is at her friend’s house just one block away from there. We walk there and have a couple beers. One of them asked us what we were doing. We tell him that we were at an Arcade Fire concert…
It’s official: Outside of that dusty baseball field, nobody but us knew what just happened.
Ready to Start
Keep the Car Running
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
No Cars Go
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Ocean of Noise
In the Backseat
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
The Suburbs (Continued)
Month of May
We Used to Wait
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)