Bigger isn’t always better. It wasn’t so long ago that Arcade Fire were playing shows in spaces like the 500-capacity Union Chapel, the Victorian gothic church, where the set traditionally began or ended with the band walking amongst the crowd. These days they’re headlining two nights at the 20,000 capacity O2 Arena and donating £1 from every ticket to a Haitian charity (Haiti is the birthplace of co-frontwoman Régine Chassagne) while they’re at it.
It takes an awfully big noise to fill a cavernous space like this. Nobody notices Devandra Banhart’s support slot, swallowed whole as it was by this beast of a void. Mostly for the best it has to be said.
From the moment they bound on stage, looking every inch like they own the place, like the rightful heirs to the stage, it’s clear there’s no chance Arcade Fire will go the same way. Launching into ‘Ready to Start’, from ‘The Suburbs’ LP, the driving energy of the song, the infectious energy of the band, shows us we’re set for quite a ride.
The sound is big enough. It’s monstrous. Having eight performers on stage helps. Having an organ definitely helps. Arcade Fire’s music has always sounded destined for grand spaces like this. Arena-sized, and majestic, how it fits.
It’s hard work keeping this many people’s attention, but still they haven’t lost their sense of fun: ‘Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)’ from debut ‘Funeral’ LP features a game of try-and-hit-this-drum-as-i-move-it-around-so-you-can’t and throughout their set the stage is a feast for the eyes as the band skip from instrument to instrument, working through an A-Z of musical devices between them. (Anyone for accordion, hurdy-gurdy and mandolin?)
They are determined to enjoy themselves. And they’re determined we’re coming along too, frontman Win Butler orders everyone present to stand up before revealing they will unleash one of the songs he knows we’re waiting for early; ‘No Cars Go’. It sounds like the perfect anthem. But every song seems to; ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ and ‘Modern Man’ fit the description, even ‘Rococo’ which sports a thoughtful piano-led verse but a truly thunderous chorus stands up.
Spike Jonze’s apocalyptic video for ‘The Suburbs’ lends a backdrop to the song and with two drummers and the organ turned up to 11 it sounds apocalyptic too. A supercharged ‘Month Of May’ seems deliberately designed to show us they still know how to do raucous, megaphone and all. They can do it all, lurching between soaring, bewitching melodies (‘Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)’), colossal walls of sound (‘Intervention’) and bone-shaking distortion (‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)’).
Striding across the front of the stage, as close to the crowd and the good old days as he can get, Win embodies a band at the height of their powers during the stunning ‘We Used To Wait’ and dedicates ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ which closes the show to the student protestors with a scream of “You’ve been lied to!”
The crowd continue singing the song’s melody long after it’s finished playing, and the band pause to hear them out before leaving the stage. Such a touching scene for a place like this.
During an encore of ‘Keep The Car Running’ and ‘Wake Up’, Win recalls with affection the days spent here mastering ‘Neon Bible’ LP and declares London “so beautiful in the snow”. It’s in the rules to flatter the crowd of course, but it seems genuine and they’ll leave with fond memories of this show, too.
It looks like it’s arenas from now on then. “I guess we’ll just have to adjust” they bellow on ‘Wake Up’. It looks to me like they have already.