Live Review Arcade Fire, KOKO, London 29th April 2022
A week out from the release of sixth album ‘WE’, the band livestream the gig across the globe, but Win Butler knows the real magic is happening inside the room.
“This venue burned to the fucking ground,” Win Butler tells the crowd at London’s KOKO half way through Arcade Fire’s show at the Camden venue, which reopens tonight after a devastating fire in early 2020 and subsequent £70m renovation. “The only thing that survived is this fucking disco ball,” he exclaims, as lights shine on the glowing orb and dazzle the room as the band race into a rendition of ‘Afterlife’.
KOKO perished just a few months before the pandemic began in earnest, and it’s an easy but understandable narrative to see tonight as the coming together of various returns – of one of London’s most storied and beautiful venues; of live music as a whole; of one of the best live bands in the world. Surrender yourself to the cheesy story, though, and tonight’s show becomes a biblical, ecstatic breakthrough.
The KOKO show comes just a week before the release of Arcade Fire’s sixth album, ‘WE’, a record that appears, from the previews given tonight and its first two singles, to be a deliberately earnest reaction to the tongue-in-cheek, deeply ironic wobble of 2017’s ‘Everything Now’. “There’s nothing saccharine about unconditional love in a world that is coming apart at the seams,” Win wrote in a statement accompanying new single ‘Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)’, and though its rendition in the encore tonight is accompanied by inflatable tube men thrashing around in front of the band, the song’s message of communion – written for Win and Régine Chassagne’s son but with a universal essence – cuts through brilliantly and shows a band determined to connect once again on a real level.
It’s not a complete line drawn under the ‘Everything Now’ era for the band though. When the start of the 2017 album’s title track receives the most rapturous reception of the whole night, Win quips: “Fuck the haters,” and the line between earnest and silly is toed perfectly across the show. One-off 2020 single ‘Generation A’ is a rabble-rousing punk hit that channels The Clash (who Win thanks before the song) and oldie ‘Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)’ is as vital and spine-tingling as it was in 2004, but the set is also daft, funny and camp in all the right places.
For opener and new song ‘Age Of Anxiety I’, Régine shines lasers out of her knuckles out onto the crowd, before donning a laser belt for the dazzling ‘The Suburbs’ highlight ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’. For viewers across the world – the show is being livestreamed on Twitch – it’s a taster of a surely beckoning arena show, with the band stretching their muscles even further as they enter the third decade of the career.
Before a second encore, where they debut sprawling new song ‘End Of The Empire I-IV’, Win instructs the operators to turn off the cameras and stop the livestream. “I’m fed up of the internet shit,” he says forcefully. Instead, the energy that was flowing across the world is now all concentrated inside the room as the grand new song, set over sweeping strings, gets its world premiere. A welcome back for Arcade Fire, for KOKO, for live music, this is a night that sees everyone involved craving human connection more viscerally than ever before, and when it arrives, it feels like we’re properly, truly back.
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