Arcade Fire makes their arrival marching through the audience towards a boxing ring in the middle of the round of Wembley Arena. This entrance seems familiar for someone who saw U2 on their Popmart-tour, but once the band is on stage, it sure feels different. While U2 undoubtedly is a great and innovative live band, Arcade Fire feels alive on a whole other level. Perhaps because there are so many of them, all running around the ring, one moment playing the guitar, next moment banging a drum. Everyone’s very busy, and it’s hard to keep track – that’s part of the appeal. There’s nothing static about this party disguised as a concert.
Arcade Fire has perfected the art of performing arena-sized spectacles. Sometimes when a band uses too many gimmicks, it can feel like it’s trying to detract from the fact that the members are not great musicians or singers. But that’s not the case with Arcade Fire.
The boxing ring works wonders as a stage in the arena round. The ropes stay on for a couple of songs to point out that this is a boxing ring where a fight will occur. However, after a couple of songs, the ropes are removed, and this boxing ring is ready to host a party.
I’ll be the first to admit that Arcade Fire’s latest record, Everything Now, is not my favourite, but, to use U2 as an example again, when you’re a great live band, you can tour a less than impressive record and make it work well in your live set. Even songs you don’t care for might end up being one of the highlights when you hear them live. This evening though, my highlight is hearing Crown of Love. I went as far as to request it on Arcade Fire’s Instagram page earlier the same day. Though I doubt my request has anything to do with them playing it, it’s still a very satisfying moment when frontman Win Butler starts singing, ‘They say it fades, if you let it, love was made, to forget it…’
Watching Win’s brother Will, and Richard Reed Parry, both multi-instrumentalists, on stage, is a sight to see indeed. The two of them are probably the most animated band members, barely standing still at any time. I wonder if they practice moving around so much while never missing a beat, or if it just comes naturally to them.
Here Comes the Night-Time is a celebration of the night, and Reflektor is a dark exploration of human behaviour. The song works best with David Bowie’s backing vocals, but since Bowie obviously can’t be here, there’s not much anyone can do about that.
Both Win and fellow bandmember (and wife), Regine, venture into the crowd during the set. Win to sing karaoke-style with lyrics on the screen above the stage, and Regine to dance beneath a big spinning disco ball with those members of the audience who happen to be standing nearby.
The musicianship and showmanship of the band are impressive. Wembley Arena is not a particularly great venue for concerts, and also, a rack of monitors is hanging down at each corner of the stage, obscuring a sliver of the view of the stage. It doesn’t matter when just watching the gig, but it becomes evident when I watch the pictures I took of the concert later. But then again, attending a show is not about the pictures you take on your phone, but the adventure you have, which can’t be captured or reproduced.
This concert is about inclusion, so it feels right that Arcade Fire has invited a guest to join them on stage for a song. When Jarvis Cocker walks onto the stage (formerly boxing ring), the audience greets him with a very vocal welcome. With Arcade Fire as his backing band for the evening, Jarvis sings his song, Cunts Are Still Running the World, and everyone seems more than happy to sing along.
At the end of the evening, support act, jazz-brass-band from New Orleans, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, join Arcade Fire on stage for a stunning rendition of Wake Up. A slightly cruel sentiment when you think about it; why tell us to ‘Wake Up’ and then send us home, where most of us are probably going straight to bed so we can get up for work in the morning?!
Even after the last song, the concert isn’t quite over. After all, the two bands have to leave the stage somehow. What better way to do that than to play David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel on whatever non-electric instruments each musician have handy and leave the stage the same they arrived. They make their way back out through the crowd, like a Second Line parading through the streets of New Orleans, blowing horns and banging drums. All of the rest of us clapping our hands and singing our overjoyed hearts out.
Arcade Fire setlist
1. A Fifth of Beethoven (Walter Murphy song)
2. Everything Now (Continued) (Song played from tape while entering the arena through the crowd)
3. Everything Now
4. Rebellion (Lies)
5. Here Comes the Night Time
7. No Cars Go
8. Electric Blue
9. Put Your Money on Me
10. Crown of Love
11. Ocean of Noise
12. Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)
13. The Suburbs
14. The Suburbs (Continued)
15. Ready to Start (Damian Taylor Remix outro)
16. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
19. Creature Comfort
20. Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) (with Give You Power snippet)
21. We Don’t Deserve Love
22. Cunts Are Still Running the World (Jarvis Cocker cover, with Jarvis Cocker)
23. Everything Now (Continued)
24. Wake Up
25. Rebel Rebel (David Bower cover, with Preservation Hall Jazz Band, played while exiting the arena through the crowd)