Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Arcade Fire @ St John's Smith Square, 29 January 2007

After the Joanna Newsom gig the other week, I felt like I had reached the pinnacle of live music and just didn’t need any more for a while. I even didn’t mind when I had to flog my tickets for Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanagan last week. But what better to drag me out of my short-lived live music retirement than the most hotly-anticipated gig of the last few years.

Arcade Fire’s five-night London residency has been the subject of so much expectation, so much hype and so much inflated ticket prices. Mind you, as we queued to get in last night, it looked like slim pickings for the touts who were there. Everyone already had their tickets, bought at normal price or otherwise.

The venue is lovely. St John’s Smith Square is usually used for classical concerts, though last night it had the imported speaker stacks and the piles or Arcade Fire equipment on the stage. The excitement in the air was palpable as we waited for a whole hour and a half (no support) for the lights to darken, the band to troop up from the basement, along the church and onto the stage. Surely a cue for mass hysteria.

But not quite. Not for me anyway. A combination of dodgy sound and Black Mirror, hardly the best of the Neon Bible tracks on display here tonight, got the show off to an inauspicious start. But it did get a whole lot better. The sound improved and just when I was wondering if they were going to play the whole of the new album right through, they hit us with Haiti – a wonderful pirouetting performance from Regine, who really was on top form all evening and looking like she was totally loving every minute.

The majority of the songs played were from The Neon Bible, and given that they seem at first to be less immediate than the Funeral tunes, meant that the really ecstatic crowd reactions were reserved for the old stuff. As much as I was keen to hear the new material, and as good as it sounded (it just needs more time I think), I’m sure I wasn’t alone in hankering after the ‘hits’. At one point Win seemed surprised that we were all so ‘polite’, but I guess it was the unfamiliarity of the setlist, coupled with the fact that we were standing in seated rows with not much room to move!

But so much was the Arcade Fire we know and love. The energy, intensity and passion. The swapping of instruments to demonstrate even further what talented people they are, the odd instruments (loud hailers, with police sirens on), the mad onstage actions (a bit of crazy drum-throwing was happening). And the great songs.

During the encore Win thanked us for bearing with the new stuff, and said that they should be playing “the fuckin’ hits”. Yep Win, you should. Then they hit us with The Power Out. In the end, I was more than satisfied. The Neon Bible is shaping up to be the most vital release of 2007, it was amazing to be among the first in the country to witness it live, and if I had any doubts about the performance, they were blown away when the band finished The Power Out, grabbed instruments, paraded out of the church, and treated us to an acoustic rendition of Wake Up on the steps outside. A wonderful end to a fine show.

Will they do it tomorrow though? We’ll see…

Download: Arcade Fire – Haiti
Download: Arcade Fire – Black Wave / Bad Vibrations

Pre-order The Neon Bible limited edition for the same price as the normal one!

My Flickr pictures are here! More to be added soon...

More reviews and photos from my companions for the evening - Three Pink Monkeys and The Wirewool.

Check this video of Wake Up outside to get an idea of the fun that we had:

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