Arcade Fire – Ormeau Park, Belfast – by Joseph Nawaz
There was a rumour going around last Tuesday afternoon that a certain Ian Brown was in Belfast city centre handing out free Stone Roses tickets to anybody who’d take them. Like all the best rumours, there’s zero evidence to back this up (although King Monkey was definitely spotted casually shuffling past Primark earlier that morning), yet there is a kernel of plausibility.
You see, the gods of Irish Music promotion, in their infinite wisdom, had double-booked Belfast. The Roses were playing the (Oddy)SSE(y) Arena while over on the other side of the Lagan, everyone’s favourite Canadian Art Pop giants Arcade Fire were holding rock’n’roll court. In spite of whispers of both gigs not being at full capacity, there were ZERO reports of lanky Canadians with wide brimmed hats handing out back stage passes outside Boots. It’s just not the Arcade Fire way is it?
Arcade Fire are a band who are so utterly themselves, they most likely wake up every morning and declare “we’re Arcade Fire”, collectively. The problem they’ve always had, (not unlike the Stone Roses in fact) is, how do you top such a stupidly assured, near flawless debut album? Fortunately unlike the Stone Roses, Win and Co. chose clear musical direction – for good and bad – over petty acrimony and a second hand copy of the Jimmy Page big book of chords.
OK, Arcade Fire’s last album was merely OK. The way too long Reflektor lived up to the cliché that lurking within most sprawling double albums, an amazing single album is trying to get out. But the tracks they’ve fired out ahead of new long player Everything Now, might be two of the best things they’ve put out since Funeral – but hey, what I know about tasteful yet exhilarating Canadian Art Rock, you could put in a 900 word review. The swoon-some title track is lashings of Abba, a soupcon of Terry Hall, and a homeopathic amount of Men at Work. All of this is a good thing. Follow up ‘Creature Comfort’ manages to be groovy, glacial and gutsy all at the same time.
They always say political leaders and bands shouldn’t design their own uniforms. I say balls. I like a bit of fancy dress me, and the new branded white double denim vibe from the AF isn’t just a look, it shouts out “the name of our gang is Arcade Fire”, which it is. The band come on to a slowed down refrain of ‘Everything Now’, which suddenly explodes into the full speed version and we’re off. People are dancing from the first note. Because make no mistake, Arcade Fire for all their sonic posturing and wonky conceptualising DO dance music. With nary a moment to draw breath, Régine takes the lead for ‘Haiti’, that underrated track from back in the days before they had Bowie on speed dial.
‘Here Comes the Night Time’ follows with its calypso/ toy reggae vibe thing – I never liked that song on Reflektor but observing two middle aged men in AF tee-shirts bogling away in front of my eyes warms the cockles, and forces a new appreciation. Context, after all, is everything darling.
Cliché number two: You know way more Arcade Fire songs than you think you do. I said this to my girlfriend before we hit Ormeau Park. Turns out you know even more Arcade Fire songs than that. I never had much love for second (this is a sophomore-free zone) album Neon Bible, but hearing ‘No Cars Go’ in a wide-open space as the sun goes down, knowing that you can get to the bar and back in about five minutes, is a truly wondrous thing. As the band plough through a “cor blimey” set list, it becomes clear that despite it not quite being a full house, Arcade Fire are not here to phone it in before Dublin. They thrash and they bash and they howl as if their lives depended on it – and the crowd responds accordingly. I heard subsequent reports back from the Roses gig that fights between topless men broke out in the SSE Arena as spontaneously as subsequent tearful make-ups at the rumble of another familiar anthem. Back in Ormeau Park, it’s all hugs and no thugs as people are generally too busy being in the collective blissful moment (I can’t speak for the drugs tbh).
But it’s not all magical realism and artful shimmying, as the irresistible rolling bar room piano of ‘The Suburbs’ cranks out, it feels alarmingly resistible. It’s the first time in the night the weird sound mix becomes really apparent. All bass-y and somewhat flat, even as the band play themselves into a frenzy, the sound often lacks that heart-stopping final punch to knock us into a condition of actually being high on life. But thankfully there is beer, and conviviality and a sense of event and great f***ing tunes to mitigate such a niggle. During ‘Reflektor’, a friend and I wait and wait for that sublime five second “Bowie” bit in the middle, miss it a couple of times, then when it arrives, we tear into it at the top of our lungs, feeling like heroes, for less than one minute.
The sun is going down, and Arcade Fire are still playing. ‘Creature Comfort’ was built to be played live, and it’s the prelude to their final brace of showy stoppy showstoppers. ‘Neighbourhood #3’ followed by ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ followed by the possible highlight of ‘Sprawl II (Beyond Mountains)’ – how’s that for a home run? The band by this stage are as dervishes on the stage, frantic, kinetic, seemingly desperate to transcend that mystical gap between producing sound and it hitting our brains, our senses. But on reflection, that’s just tripe – they’re merely playing the shit out of their instruments.
Then, after a set of 17 (count them) songs, they encore with (natch) ‘Wake Up’ (see, I can do parenthesis too, Arcade Fire). The crowd, at least where I’m standing hang on every second, knowing it must inevitably and shortly come to an end. The stage lights suddenly beam out brilliantly across the field illuminating us and the band. And then it’s over. The lovely noise is gone. With a wave, Arcade Fire follow suit. Later on, I hear reports that the Stone Roses gig ended up being really well attended. But then again, you wouldn’t catch Arcade Fire currying favour outside the city hall. You come to them. And on Tuesday night, thank god, that’s exactly what we did.
Arcade Fire – Malahide Castle, Dublin – by Hilary A White
Ever since Win Butler’s ensemble from the north loped into Electric Picnic and sweetly ravished the nation 12 years ago, the idea of a summertime rendezvous with Arcade Fire brings us out in a tizzy. Weren’t those days magical, back when EP was just the one day? The climate was sunnier, rock ‘n’ roll would never die and Mars bars definitely seemed larger.
Much has happened. Economic hurdy-gurdy. Political panto. Beards, babies and sensible jobs. And despite a few magisterial Arcade Fire victory laps to these shores, Rock did indeed die, at least in Ireland. The country that gave the world Thin Lizzy and ASIWYFA now has a healthy production line in bedwetters. It’s not a case of liking the idea of nodding our heads as one to the metronomic chug of ‘Wake Up’ – part of us needs this.
Happily, this and other targets are struck this mild evening in the north county demesne. Reliability, you see, is perhaps what’s become most endearing to us about Arcade Fire. They’ve defied the normal devolutionary course of a band and grown more interesting with time, maintaining potency and independence of thought in the studio and never, ever phoning in a live commitment. Abba-esque new single ‘Everything Now’ is used as a sunny hello and effortlessly makes itself at home in the setlist. The sliding bass rumble of ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ assuages the percentage here who probably swear they were in that Co Laois tent all those years ago, like it’s indie-rock’s GPO.
Everything looks and sounds precisely as it should. The band, clad in this campaign’s obligatory black bomber jacket and fluorescent boots combo, are heatedly pounding their considerable wares into existence. Regine Chassagne is running amok down by the pit barrier while her husband risks stamping a hole through the riser. But it initially seems like the laconic, school-night crowd are holding back for a glimpse of the Second Coming, here to observe rather than participate. Butler knows it, gently reminding us: “Whatever you give us, we’re gonna give it back to you”.
The anxious swish of ‘The Suburbs’ bleeds into ‘Ready To Start’, a self-explanatory clarion call that announces playtime is over. More hands are appearing in the air. Yes. More voices are cooing out the piano refrain of ‘Tunnels’. Can you feel it? A neon boogie breaks out with ‘Reflektor’. Shoulders are loosening up a bit more now. ‘Power Out’’s turns the stage into a red-lit cauldron of smoke and kinetic energy. Let’s have ya, Malahide. Phone torches are held aloft on request for ‘Mountains Beyond Mountains’ and it looks so gorgeous. We’re at 80% now. Yes. Here we go…
But it doesn’t quite happen. Call it the lethargy of years, call it trepidation, the crowd won’t fully give themselves over to the hard-grafting Canadian phalanx that has undertaken guerrilla marketing all over their city this day and who will now jog to a waiting vehicle and head to Whelans for a soon-to-be-mythologised, super-exclusive aftershow set. What? You weren’t there? It was so awesome.
Arcade Fire photographed for State by Leah Carroll