by / September 7th, 2011 /

Electric Picnic 2011: Arcade Fire, Chemical Brothers

Arcade Fire, Main Stage

Aah, the weight of expectation. Reasons why 2005’s legendary tented gig at EP was a success: they got a much bigger crowd due to word-of-mouth for the slowly-catching-on Funeral album. They had more-or-less come from nowhere. They did what they do best, brilliantly, spurred on my the bigger-than-they imagined crowd. They had nothing to lose. These days playing to 20,000 people is no biggie for Arcade Fire. Now with three lauded albums under the belt, superb reviews for gigs, people like Bowie sharing the stage to sing their songs, the only way is to either deliver on expectation or underwhelm people hoping for the greatest gig of their lives.

Credit then must be given to Arcade Fire for coming close to delivering a gig as good as anything we were expecting, but going beyond this was always going to be an unenviable task. Straight into ‘Wake Up’ they immediately have everyone singing and on their side. Another from Funeral and then a salvo from The Suburbs, perhaps going too long before dropping bigger, popular numbers such as ‘We Used To Wait’, ‘The Suburbs’ or even ‘No Cars Go’. When they did, they were delivered with energy and authority, Win drawing people in by merely standing his skinny frame upon the monitors. They actually lose a visual fulcrum when he retreats to the back part of the stage to play piano.

Above the band are screens lit up like an old cinema hoarding running a curious assortment of vintage and new visuals including parts of Spike Jonze’s film made for the album, though these, as ever, serve to distract somewhat from the on-stage action and with a band as big and full of beans as these guys it’s a shame we’re not all just watching them. Still, moot points. By the time ‘No Cars Go’ gets an airing we hit a peak that continues almost till the encore. Further back from the stage the lack of booster speakers means that the sound is low where pushed back by the wind and we can only envy those who burrowed in up the front. The ideal encore of ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ and ‘Sprawl II’ is only offset by the low volume, Régine Chassagne’s voice on the latter not quite strong enough for impact. With such expectation, it’s no small thing to say that everyone came away happy. But anyone with that small burning desire to either re-live or catch for the first time the energy of 2005 is going to need more than tonight. They’re going to need a time machine.

Chemical Brothers, Main Stage

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It’s always almost always the big dance acts than know what to do with all the stage they’re given at a festival. Both Underworld on the Sunday, and the Chemicals on the Saturday made even Arcade Fire look like they were playing in a shed (only Pulp truly succeeded). The intro involved an uncoiling circle of lights descending from up in the roof of the stage to head-height and by the time Tom and Ed appear it’s fever pitch down the front. With dance bands requiring less on-the-spot chemistry (sorry) as a rock band for a gig to go well, it’s all in the stage production and, much like a club, in the choice and pacing of tracks. These lads are dab hands at it and slip in tracks from the new back-to-their-roots album effortlessly. New stomper ‘Horse Power’ seem to grab a bit of Kraftwerk into the mix too but it’s not surprise that the treats certainly seem to be the classics from ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ to ‘Star Guitar’ whose chill-breakdown moment kicked off a no-brainer singalong. For fans of both the Chemicals and chemicals in general it was a powerhouse, an all-inclusive dance party, though not for the casual passer-by.

See Saturday’s full gallery of photos by Damien McGlynn here.