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Win Butler Takes Basketball Just as Seriously as Music

Arcade Fire frontman plays in charity game in Montreal

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The Arcade Fire's Win Butler playing in a charity basketball game in Montreal.

Andi State

It’s a Saturday afternoon in Montreal, and inside McGill University’s Molson Stadium gym, two basketball teams are warming up. “Jock,” the blue team, consists of players from local university teams. “Pop,” in red, includes brothers Win and Will Butler, Vampire Weekend drummer Chris Tomson, Miracle Fortress’ Graham Van Pelt, and a string of U.S. college players. The game’s two ringers, former NBA forward Paul Shirley and the San Antonio Spurs’ Matt Bonner, both play with the Butlers. “You might have noticed there were a couple of jocks on the Pop team,” Win admits to the crowd. “But that’s cool – we really want to win.”

When Arcade Fire‘s Win Butler organizes a basketball game, he takes it seriously. Saturday’s so-called Pop vs. Jock – part of the Pop Montreal festival – is a charity fundraiser for a local youth sports club, a musical premiere, the finale to a week in which Arcade Fire won the Polaris prize and performed to a hometown crowd of 101,000. 

After the buzzer goes, there’s a quick rally before Win scores the first point, pumping the air, high-fiving everyone who will give him a high-five. The Jocks push back and then Win is again shoving through, with Shirley cleaving deftly through the blue defense.

Throughout it all, Arcade Fire’s Régine Chassagne plays ditties on the organ. She pokes out “We Will Rock You” and the Super Mario theme, assisted by the DJ Kid Koala. By halftime, Team Pop leads, 49-40. The audience attempts a wave. Win and Will duet on a medley, cajoling Bonner and Shirley into a rendition of “I’m A Little Teapot.” 

And then it’s time for “Drones/Revelations,” a new musical composition by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry. Out streams a gang of bicyclists and roller-skaters, each one carrying a portable stereo. In darkness, the figures circle the floor. Their boomboxes thrum with feedback, thunder, chanting. Although “Drones/Revelations” was inspired by spy planes and the Book of Revelation, it feels modest, almost suburban. 

From there, the rest of the game speeds by. Team Pop’s lead widens to as many as 13 points. Régine bangs her tambourine. Her husband yells directions and finally Win wins, tipping in a shot by Bonner. Almost immediately, the Arcade Fire frontman has whipped off his shirt. Everyone gets a medal; hands are shaken; Chassagne plays “Pomp and Circumstance.” And the Butlers are hoisting their trophy as if they have won, well, a Grammy. The only thing sweeter than winning is winning again.

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