Having wilfully avoided my University’s summer ball for the highly anticipated Arcade Fire gig at Earls Court last Friday, I received many bewildering, confused or frankly blank looks when I mentioned the words ‘Arcade Fire’. Unfortunately, Rizzle Kicks for the unwarranted price of £75 didn’t lure me in, and yet I found myself somewhat isolated in relation to what I thought was a valid justification and alternative: Arcade Fire, Glastonbury headliners, for a more feasible price of £40.
It would be reasonable to observe that Arcade Fire are yet to transgress the paradigms of the mainstream, and are still what could be described as faceless indie music, hence the onslaught of blank and incurious looks directed towards me and my incessant defensive justification that they are headlining the holy grail of British, and global festivals. Conversely, these unknown faces have already launched their crusade of blowing the minds of those who witnessed their intense spectacle on Friday and Saturday night, and if that is any projection or valid blueprint for the future, they will have no difficulty in winning over the colossal crowd at Glastonbury.
Friday night was that of unending engrossing, progressive rock and roll numbers and an unruly obsession for light and colourful flamboyancy; a recipe for a magical evening to a sold out Earls Court. Thousands of fans turned up to the gig fully embracing the fancy dress code that Arcade Fire had encouraged, that being: suits, tuxedos, glitzy dresses and elaborate fancy masks. It was as if Earls Court was preparing itself for a mass re-enactment of a Shakespearian Masquerade ball, combined with swamping undercurrents of sci-fi-esque and futuristic tones. When you first entered the Earls Court you were greeted with the infamous bobbly heads, dancing in an incredibly bizarre demeanour which was simultaneously fascinating and terrifying; for me it was more of the latter. There is something incredibly eerie and uncomfortable about a moving body and a stone-cold, emotionless plastic head staring at you. It was immensely disorientating but the expectation of the unexpected created a distinctly intense and enthralling atmosphere; something notably different to the Arctic Monkeys at Finsbury Park experience. It was like stepping into a parallel universe far away from mundane realities, and deep into an experimental collision of electric, rock and voodoo rhythms. It was trippy to say the least, and you’re eyes were unsure of what to focus on, and for arena shows that is demonstrably important. When you move from small, toilet-like venues to aircraft hanger arenas like Earls Court, what you see and what you hear are inseparable and prerequisite for a memorable set.
…keeping the audience’s attention in their unyielding grasp which did not cease…
Before the band arrived on stage, a sort of ritual broke out involving the crowd. A piñata in the form of an iPhone appeared on stage, and members of the crowd were bought on stage to smash it open and get the candy inside. This all stems from the torrent of musicians like Jack White and Prince taking stern action against constant mobile phone use at gigs. However, Arcade Fire’s method was more subtle and yet exceedingly more enigmatic of defiance and contempt towards the changing dynamic of the live music experience in the advancing modern world. All of this was happening, whilst, of course, keeping the audience’s attention in their unyielding grasp which did not cease to unclasp the consciousness of the audience until the end of the set.
Finally, the band arrived on stage, all ten of the multi-instrumentalists, in front of a colossal tetris-like lit up backdrop. Arcade Fire awoke the crowd, in high gear, from the psychedelic slumber which had set in on them thanks to Steve Mackey’s (from Pulp) marvellous DJ set, with ‘Reflektor’. It was an intense spectacle, with the crowd punching their hands in the air, in unison, when the death disco chorus was unleashed with bloated power chords. The heavy theme of the night was set in stone, and their old indie rock and roll personas were twisted and torn apart; instead opting for glitzy mirror balls, 70s disco bass lines and New Order undertones. But, it worked. The recording of ‘Reflektor’ itself on their new record doesn’t do its powerful nature any justice, compared to the immensity of the live experience. From their new material ‘Joan of Arc’ and ‘Normal Person’ were particular highlights, with the old rock and roll clichés that they are trying to battle against, disobediently creeping in, with heavy riffs and rapid drum beats.
…threw Earls Court into what felt like the carnival at Rio De Janeiro…
Overloading the set with material from ‘Reflektor’ was an indulgent and ambitious move but an act of risk which was nevertheless, genius. ‘Here Comes The Night’ threw Earls Court into what felt like the carnival at Rio De Janeiro, with euphoric, saxophone-tinged reggae and Caribbean voodoo rhythms. This was accompanied by an endless shower of confetti, and a triangle formation of lighting and disco balls lowering its self just above the crowd to cultivate the setting of a dance floor. Earls Court was also treated with a surprise guest: Ian McCulloch from Echo and The Bunnymen. They performed Echo and the Bunnymen’s iconic single ‘Cutter’ in which Win and Ian’s vocals mirrored each other and often melded into one, magnificent, Morrissey-esque vocal glaze.
The encore was a nostalgic endeavour back to the start of their career, finishing on the iconic ‘Funeral’ and classic, ‘Wake Up’. Despite their new material being well received by the crowd, it was clear that this was the song that the crowd was anxiously waiting for. In contrast to the rest of the set, this song galvanized the most overwhelming and frantic response. Harmoniously, the crowd chanted and clapped their hands, and some were so overwhelmed in their boundless devotion, that they were reduced to tears. Arcade Fire are one of the few bands who have that illustrious talent, and a zealous fan base, far more ardent and ostensibly self-involved, which sets the gig in isolation to the many others I have attended; overrun with individuals who only attend such gigs because a friend is going, or are just merely searching for something to do in London. However, hopefully those that did turn up by accident have now been engulfed in the charming and endearing Arcade Fire parade.
…the band’s pragmatic progression from indie rock & roll, to bass-heavy disco numbers, will ensure that there is something for everyone…
Glastonbury will undoubtedly be a different kettle of fish; not only will it be in an outside, predictably damp and wet setting, it will not be packed with the same vanguard of Arcade Fire fans. Glastonbury encompasses diversity, and thus inevitably, diverse tastes. However, the band’s pragmatic progression from indie rock & roll, to bass-heavy disco numbers, will ensure that there is something for everyone. Earls Court saw the revolution of Arcade Fire’s latest twist in style, rather than a gradual evolution; Reflektor is in a distant world away from their previous album, The Suburbs, and arguably it may be their finest work yet. What is certain is that Glastonbury could see the transformation of Arcade Fire, finally and positively, away from the faceless indie rock & roll headliners who could fade into obscurity, to those who ambitiously conquered Glastonbury and earned a place in its historical hallmark of career-defining headline spots. If we can make accurate expectations for their Glastonbury set which is imminently approaching, it is that filled with ambition, pyrotechnics, an unprecedented level of production, and a surprise guest or a chant-provoking cover of a timeless classic. Regardless of over-analysed and currently, unfounded expectations and predictions, it will undoubtedly prove their worthiness of that much sought-after headline Glastonbury slot. Glastonbury goers, you’re in for something special.