Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Arcade Fire @ St John's Smith Square

Come and worship at the altar of The Arcade Fire
[sorry couldn't resist a cheesy line]

Interesting Optimus Prime projection

The previous two occasions I've seen this group of Montreal natives have been in incredibly sweaty conditions with very little space to move, or breathe. Both were exhilarating spectacles, nothing short of extraordinary in fact; the memory of one (ULU) will remain indelibly with me to recall wistfully to various offspring (forthcoming nieces included).

The special three night residency at St John's Smith Square began last night. A grandiose church standing rather awkwardly in the middle of a square surrounded by Westminster offices. A strange place for them to play; the venue is usually habituated by more classical fare. Perhaps the loose connection to the new album 'Neon Bible' was the motivation. Whether it was an inspired move is yet to be decided.

It takes a brave band to showcase so many new tracks to a relatively unsavvy audience. Clearly, The Arcade Fire laugh in the face of danger. Launching into new single Black Mirror it became clear was not going to be an occasion to reminisce about the good old times of 'Funeral' but to look forward to the new dawn of 'Neon Bible' and the greatness that lay within.

It's always a challenge to listen a much-loved band play new material without immediately comparing it to its more familiar work. My immediate reaction to tracks such as Ocean Of Noise and Keep The Car Running wasn't to the same degree as when listening to 'Funeral' for the first time (something akin to a spiritual awakening is not far from the mark). Perhaps it's indicative of 'Neon Bible'. Maybe it's - to use a cheesy term - a grower. One reassuring thing that did strike me was the way they still retain the propulsive energy on stage. Whilst it didn't really transfer to the penned-in crowd, it was still there.

The new tracks still seem to address the same issues of isolation, love lost, searching for the intangible and familial discontent. Musically, there's less of the feeling that they - or in fact we - are on the verge of some sort of apocalyptic disaster but it remains as fast-paced and energetic as before. There's a brass section to add to the burgeoning strings. They haven't scrimped on dramatics. No Cars Go (originally from an EP released back in the day) and church organ-driven My Body Is A Cage are just as ambitiously realised as anything they've ever done on 'Funeral'.

Obviously, it was the hits the audience were hankering after. Rebellion (Lies) and Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) sounded as good as ever, like coming home. As expected, old material was few and far between so no airing of In The Backseat, Crown Of Love or even Cold Wind.

Grabbing instruments and rushing (in a controlled manner) out of the side door, the band treated us to a beautiful acoustic version of Wake Up. As we sang along, we really did feel like those children immortalised within who just don't grow up. In a good way of course.

The set list:

Black Mirror
Keep the Car Running
No Cars Go
Black Wave/Bad Vibrations
My Body Is A Cage
Ocean Of Noise
Rebellion (Lies)

Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)
The Well And The Lighthouse
(Antichrist Television Blues)

Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)
Wake Up

Download: The Arcade Fire - No Cars Go

This version of No Cars Go is taken from an EP from yonks ago that you can buy here
Pre-order your copy of 'Neon Bible' here

Those photos are taken by me on my new camera phone which aren't as good as The Daily Growl's whose are much better because he used a proper camera.

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