When it comes to music, sometimes more is more. There’s a definite trend among rock bands to pile every musician friend onstage and make a joyful noise. We’ve also noticed that these bands tend to be Canadian (huddling together for warmth, maybe?) with a love strange instruments.
We’ve collected our favorite current big bands together (excepting jazz bands or orchestras—which are supposed to be big—and occasional backing groups like Lyle Lovett’s Large Band). This list goes to 11, from least members to most. Can you guess who’s #1?
11. Arcade Fire
Weirdest instrument: Hurdy-gurdy
Paste album review: The Suburbs
The line-up may vary, but the quality of music hasn’t now for three albums. With the release of The Suburbs we’ve officially declared this as The Age of Arcade Fire. Though they’ve slimmed down to a svelte seven permanent members, they most recently toured as a 10-piece.
Canadian? No, straight from L.A.
Weirdest instrument: Requinto Jarocho
Paste feature: Ozomatli
Each Ozomatli concert is a party, both on stage and off, as they keep playing as they enter into the crowd (and sometimes as they exit the building).
9. Library Voices
Weirdest instrument: Tenori-on
Paste feature: NXNE 2010
This octet has everything you look for in an oversized band—they make joyful ruckus, they revel in weird instrumentation, and yes, they’re from Canada. They hail from Regina, Saskatchewan, and we discovered them at this year’s NXNE conference. Their music features theremin, glockenspiel and the Tenori-on, a Japanese device that uses 16×16 grid of LED switches which creates a unique soundscape.
8. The New Pornographers
Weirdest instrument: Vibraphone played with two violin bows
Paste album review: Together
After the fifth album, I think we have to stop thinking about The New Pornographers as a super-group and start thinking about everything else Dan Bejar, Kathryn Calder and A.C. Newman do as side-projects. But Neko Case will always be Neko Case.
7. The Pogues
Canadian? No, Irish
Weirdest instruments: Cittern
Paste feature: The Ultimate Accordion Playlist
All eight members of the current line-up were with in the band back in 1986, though one-time bandmate Joe Strummer passed away in 2002.
6. Gogol Bordello
Canadian? No, a Ukrainian, two Russians, an Israeli, an Ethiopian, a Scot, an Ecuadorian and two Americans all living in New York.
Weirdest instrument: Fire bucket
Paste feature: Eastern Bloc Party
More band members allow for a greater ruckus, and that seems to be the philosophy of frontman Eugene Hütz and his giant melting pot.
5. Broken Social Scene
Weirdest instrument: Flute
Paste album review: Forgiveness Rock Record
We learned in Music Journalism 101 that Broken Social Scene is a “musical collective,” not a “band,” since its many members over the years (which have included Leslie Feist, Amy Millan and Jason Collett) play in every other band that’s even come within 100 miles of Toronto. What I didn’t learn until compiling this list was that the collective started out in 2001 as a trio.
4. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Canadian? No, very Californian
Weirdest instrument: Tenor Ukulele
Paste feature: C’Mon Get Happy
None of the 10-15 that take the stage as Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros are actually named Edward. According to frontman Alex Ebert, Mr. Sharpe “was sent down to Earth to kinda heal and save mankind…but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love.”
3. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Canadian? No, Brooklynian
Weirdest instrument: Flute
Paste album review: I Learned the Hard Way
The Dap-Kings were most famous for backing Amy Winehouse on several of her standout tracks on Back to Black until their breakout funk/soul-reviving album with Sharon Jones, 2007’s 100 Days, 100 Nights.
2. The Polyphonic Spree
Canadian? No, Texan
Weirdest instrument: Piccolo
Paste feature: The Polyphonic Spree Wants You
Tim DeLaughter’s ensemble includes lots of horns, strings and singers, all bedecked in choir robes or military outfits. The Spree’s live shows can be transcendent experiences, with each musician playing with unbridled enthusiasm.
1. I’m From Barcelona
Canadian?: No, Swedish
Weirdest instrument: Glockenspiel
Paste album review: Who Killed Harry Houdini?
I’ve played shows with less people in the audience, but the geographically confused Swedes can pack a room just with the band. The total amount of fun being had on stage is unmatched by any measly quartet.