Live Review

Arcade Fire, Earl’s Court, London

7th June 2014

The second of the Canadians’ massive headline gigs in west London augurs well for that Glastonbury headline slot.

“They keep on being the best band I’ve ever seen,” avows a gracious Lorde, who obviously jumped at the chance to support Arcade Fire tonight. Their lyrics, quite often wistful, suburban, youth-centric, have resonated with disillusioned teenagers all over the world, she explains, and she for one is among them. The second most powerful under-25 in music (Spotify’s recent finding) couldn’t stoop to support many acts nowadays – and that speaks volumes.

Although Arcade Fire’s message is quite often reflected in Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s songs (N.B. ‘Ribs’ with its refrain of “it drives you crazy getting old”), the New Zealander’s minimal live aesthetic – Thom Yorke-style cavorting and intense emotional outpourings set to textured beats, thudding bass and shadowy synths – is worlds apart from the headliners’ unrelenting extravagance.

Outside Earl’s Court, a Mariachi band play in yellow suits and sombreros; a white limo rolls up and out step conceptual doppelgänger group the Reflektors, wearing giant papier mâché masks. Inside, the Reflektors proceed to bop along to a cymbal-heavy 2manyDJs DJ set on the venue floor, whilst everybody else gazes up at fairy lights, disco balls and greenery. Innumerable hexagonal mirrors reflect the name, artwork and themes of the new record. Then, it’s pure theatre: costumes, sets, props, a B-stage, visuals, dazzling lights.

Arcade Fire, Earl's Court, London

Immediately, ‘Reflektor’ is an explosion of pomp and colour, as the band march in assorted enviable suits, and light rays bound off a blinding robot-man dressed in shards of mirror. Disco Arcade Fire is the first of the band’s many faces running amok, gleefully, jerkily packing in off-beat woodwind grooves, 90s house piano plinks, and Win and Régine’s glorious vocal interplay. This side continues with the lilting ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’, the synth-pop Cure-isms of ‘Afterlife’, and the gender identity-tackling ‘We Exist’.

Next, Stadium Rock Arcade Fire is an altogether different beast. Whether it’s the rebellious punkiness of ‘Month of May’, ‘Normal Person’ and ‘Joan of Arc’, or the Springsteen anthemics of ‘Rebellion (Lies)’, ‘Tunnels’ and ‘The Suburbs’, they never flounder about. There’s always a cathartic side to the beautiful cacophony; we definitely purge some sort of emotion during the thunderous ‘No Cars Go’, or the quasi-hymnal ‘Intervention’. Will Butler persists in the OTT drum-thwacking, Richard Reed Parry in his urgent facial expressions, Owen Pallett in a terrific violin squall.

Arcade Fire, Earl's Court, London

And then there’s Caribbean Arcade Fire. The reggae riddims and booming sax of ‘Flashbulb Eyes’ provide an early standout, while ‘Here Comes the Night Time’ offers calypso shimmying galore. Similarly, ‘Power Out’ and ‘Haiti’ are given a strangely uplifting twist with the addition of steel drums and creole chants, as the band constantly remind us of the sheer extent and malleability of their back catalogue. ‘Wake Up’ is the predictable culmination, with all hands raised for that timeless grumble of a riff and belting ‘all together now’ finale. It's a nigh-on tearful moment for everyone involved, and all augurs well for that Worthy Farm headline slot.

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