thu 22/02/2024

Arcade Fire, Earls Court | reviews, news & interviews

Arcade Fire, Earls Court

Arcade Fire, Earls Court

The experimentalists overcome a huge venue for a rapturous, if disconnected, show

When you have quite as much going on as 10-piece (in their current form) experimentalist Canadian indie band Arcade Fire do, it’s hard to know where to look. It’s a fact they’re aware of, and it seems like they even riff on it quite heavily with the overwhelming presence of the fragmented, fractured aesthetic of their latest album Reflektor at Earls Court, on the first of their two-night run.

A lesser band might struggle to hold attention given the amount they’re asking their audience to engage with - and the sheer size of Earls Court, which felt like it could almost be large enough for their dense art rock to fail to translate - but luckily this is Arcade Fire, a band who in frontman Win Butler’s own words, only put out an album every “four years or so”; everything is meticulous, and four albums in, they’ve got a formidable arsenal of tunes to choose from.

Butler remains one of the more awkward frontmen in music, scarcely bantering with the crowd and frequently resorting to cliches (“thank you very much, you all look beautiful”) or dry, distanced humour when he does, but his partner in crime Régine Chassagne is mesmerising. While she also doesn’t speak directly to crowd, her focus and passion throughout the set constantly draws the eye, from instrument to instrument and stage to stage. And who needs to talk to the audience, after all, when you have songs like “Rebellion (Lies)” and “No Cars Go” to do it for you? After opening triumphantly on “Reflektor”, the band launched into a string of their Neon Bible and Funeral hits to set the tone for a set that would be full of arm-waving and wordless, breathless singalongs. Highlights included a stadium full of people crooning back at Butler, “sometimes I can’t believe it/ I’m moving past the feeling” (from “The Suburbs”) a capella, and Echo and the Bunnymen frontman Ian McCulloch appearing onstage for a rousing rendition of “The Cutter”.

Lots of familiar singalong anthems provide plenty of bonding momentsWhile musically a beast of its own, as the tracks contort and the artists move fluidly around the stage to generate a flurry of sound from their funky, Haitian-influenced, playfully percussive Reflektor tracks, the broody outsider pop of The Suburbs and their Funeral anthems, at its heart the show feels somewhat fragmented. With the Reflektor theme, the stagecraft only serves to enhance this - every surface is adorned with a mirror or disco ball, the stage screens are split into hexagons and a mirror-covered dancer appears twice throughout the set. At one point, Chassagne is even placed on a stage halfway across the stadium, facing Butler and the rest of the band, for a duet during which she is surrounded by skeletally-costumed dancers. This decision makes poetic use of the massive venue, but the visual metaphor of the gulf of space between band members is tough to ignore at the centre of a show in which it feels like the magic ingredient of cohesiveness never quite falls into place.

Still, while there’s a disconnectedness or frantic energy around the performers and an audience whose attention is split 10 ways, the band’s decision to stick to a well-trodden path of familiar singalong anthems provides plenty of bonding moments. The encore in itself was a contained example of the strange diversion tactics of the band’s wry sense of humour coupled with the intense soar of their rockiest songs. Beginning on the second stage in the middle of the audience, a mariachi band wearing those infamous giant papier mache heads initially performed a cover of The Verve’s "Bittersweet Symphony" before Arcade Fire themselves reappeared on the main stage in a kind of “over here, guys! Gotcha!” moment. This was met largely by confusion and an unimpressed shuffle of gazes from one stage to another, which was possibly not the pantomime spirit Butler and crew intended; but once the encore proper kicked off, the band played a heartfelt, spiralling trio of heart-bursting anthems “Normal Person”, “Here Comes The Night” and “Wake Up”. In those moments, with crowds of arms in the air and mouths bellowing every harmony and riff religiously, it all made sense.

For the encore, a mariachi band wearing those infamous giant papier mache heads performed a cover of The Verve's 'Bittersweet Symphony'


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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