Live Review: Arcade Fire, Manchester Arena, 8th April 2018
Fronted by Win Butler, Arcade Fire, after a difficult year, offer a magnificent sense of theatre in their performances
Review by Andrew Steel
What must it be like to have the world turn upon you? That’s the musical question a fair few bands may feel they have the experience to answer, but perhaps not quite like Arcade Fire. The Montreal art-rock collective spent over a decade as commercial and critical darlings, putting out four shimmering albums, namechecked by all their heroes, playing their own songs live with the late David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen. Then last year’s Everything Now sparked the backlash, dropping off the charts quicker than a stone after a divisive, satirical promotional campaign.
In an interview with The Guardian last month, frontman Win Butler clapped back, confident in his group’s craft and now comes their first full-length show on British soil since release day, at Manchester Arena. In a departure from typical big-rock shows, they play in-the-round, on a stage like a cluttered boxing canvas dropped in the middle of the monolithic auditorium, complete with ringside introduction. Even with the clusters of empty seating here and there in the stands, there’s still a magnificent sense of theatre to the occasion.
It’s thrilling then that their live showmanship expands to their performance too. More unfettered than they are on record, Arcade Fire blast through just over two hours of baroque, guitar-led dancefloor jams with a herculean, full-blooded energy and commitment that leaves nearly all punters gasping for breath inside the first three songs. Backing up the Abba-esque sweep-and-stomp of Everything Now’s sunny title track with a ballistic, punk-tinged version of breakthrough single Rebellion (Lies), Butler and company come out swinging with a musical belligerence that roars with the cacophony of triumph.
Though all are phenomenal multi-instrumentalists, Butler remains the constant focal point for the most part, sweaty locks plastered to his face under a wide-brimmed hat. He is on fine vocal form, alternately channelling desperation and determination with a winning vigour. On the rarely-played double of Suburban War and Vampire/Forest Fire, he plays the magnetic loner among the organised chaos of the raised dais he stands upon; during the stunningly beautiful Afterlife, he ventures out and sits in the stairwell of the adjoining seating tier to croon his heartbreak.
Bandmate-turned-wife Régine Chassagne takes the limelight on a handful of songs to great effect, her keening vocal soaring over the frigid synths of Electric Blue and bellowing through the glitzy disco of Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), and later – to cheers – busts out the wine bottles to play during We Don’t Deserve Love. When Butler takes back the reins for a finale of Wake Up, backed by support act the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, billowing light is cast upon the crowd around them united in exhausted, happy delirium. Arcade Fire are right to have pride in themselves; very few can match them for sheer communal joy.
Arcade Fire play The SSE Wembley Arena Wednesday 11th- Friday 13th April