The Arcade Fire at the Barrowlands on Monday proved to be a very different experience to Kristin Hersh at Oran Mor the previous night.
That was principally due to scale – the Fire were bigger, louder and far more exuberant compared to the intimate show the previous evening. In itself this is not necessarily either a good or bad thing but the contrast between the two shows was welcome.
Straight off, I have to say that large chunks of the Barras show were remarkable – and that was in part as much to do with the audience as the band. The band themselves were everything you might expect – hyperactive and playing with the sort of intensity they are known for. There’s a real sense of kinetic energy about the performance.
But that was reflected back in the audience. Normally I’m not a huge fan of audience participation – I want to hear the band not the punters – but here the participation seemed genuinely spontaneous rather than an on demand tired stadium rock cliché. It reached such proportions that at times the band struggled to make themselves heard over their supposed audience, particularly during the last few songs, and yet for this cynic it didn’t detract from the show at all.
Everything came together on the final number, a truly astonishing, intoxicating ‘Wake Up’, when the whole place (and I mean the whole place) sang the whoa-oh part at the start of the song after the opening guitar riff. It was real hairs on the back of the neck stuff. And things got wilder still when Win Butler, who had briefly walked over the crowd in the main set, once again ventured off the stage and just kept going, crowd surfing about halfway back before he disappeared into the crowd. Rumour has it he completed the journey to the back of the hall on foot. It was one hell of an exit.
For me there were 2 really strong sections of the show. I’ll confess that my initial impressions of the new LP dampened my expectations for the show but the opening three numbers blew away any reservations I had. ‘Keep The Car Running’ surpassed the LP version with ease and led straight into a fantastic ‘No Cars Go’. ‘Haiti’ was next up and its simple vocal hooks proved that this band always had the potential to play to big crowds.
The closing run was even better. ‘Power Out’ and ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ were played back to back and generated, and this is no exaggeration, the most euphoric reaction I’ve ever heard to any song anywhere. This had the slightly unintentional consequence of overshadowing set closer ‘Intervention’ which, magnificent though it was, couldn’t quite live up to that double salvo.
The encore too was wonderful with ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)’ turning out to be another of the Neon Bible tracks to grow wings in the live context. ‘Wake Up’ was the other encore.
It wasn’t all as good as this. Whilst there is no doubt that the level of intensity at either end of the set couldn’t be maintained throughout, the band failed to replace that with something different but equally as good.
A group of us had a debate about this at the end and I seemed to be in the minority but I felt that the stuff I’ve not mentioned so far off ‘Neon Bible’ was disappointing, despite a generally euphoric audience reaction. It’s a matter of debate whether that’s a reflection on the songwriting or the performance but in actual fact I found that songs like ‘Bad Vibrations/Black Wave’ and ‘Ocean of Noise’ failed to live up to their recorded counterparts. Make of that what you will.
The audience too didn’t quite sustain their effort throughout either. Despite being the most naturally psyched up crowd I think I’ve ever been a part of they seemed to totally run out of steam after ‘Rebellion’. The demands for an encore paled beside some of the in-set reaction whilst the meek acceptance of the fact that the set was finished after ‘Wake Up’ was baffling. Sure, apart from the glaring problem of singer retrieval, it would have been almost impossible to come close to matching that song but it was a night that insisted that the audience at least demand the impossible, even if it was a fruitless task.
On this evidence though the Arcade Fire will be around for years to come.
Much, much earlier support act Patrick Wolf provided an entertaining short set. It’s fair to say he’s a flamboyant character and his band had an unusual line-up with violin, double bass, laptop and drums. His slightly skewed pop though was well received and he flagged his records as worthy of future investigation.
Here’s one of the real highlights.
The Arade Fire – Rebellion (Lies) (from the LP ‘Funeral’)
If you don’t already own ‘Funeral’ then you’re missing out. And ‘Neon Bible’ isn’t half bad either. Buy Arcade Fire records here.
Arcade Fire setlist
1 Keep The Car Running 2 No Cars Go 3 Haiti 4 Black Mirror 5 Ocean of Noise 6 Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) 7 The Well and the Lighthouse 8 Black Wave/Bad Vibrations 9 Neon Bible 10 Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) 11 Rebellion (Lies) 12 Intervention
E1 (Antichrist Television Blues) E2 Wake Up