Arcade Fire’s 10 step guide to doing the big gig shuffle
What we learned about the Canadian band’s finely tuned ability to put on a show at Marlay Park last night
(1) I interviewed Owen Pallett last week (interview in The Ticket on Friday next) and we were talking about his current gig as a touring musician with Arcade Fire. “There is so much going on with their music”, he marvelled. Watching – and counting – the musicians at work on the big stage in the big field in Marlay Park last night in front of a lot of punters (you know there was a lot of punters there because (a) there were queues everywhere for everything and (b) people had problems getting out of that southside hellspot afterwards), that quote came to mind again and again. So much going on.
(2) However, there are still moments of beautiful, emotional and joyous drama within all that big music derring-do. These are mostly the moments when Regine Chassagne is in the spotlight. For a band with a lot of heart and soul, she is the heart and soul. She even managed to make that hippie dance thing with the colourful bands on her hands look slightly beguiling. Note “slightly”.
(3) Her husband, though, is the big kahoona and not just because he’s a strapping lad well capable of shouldering a van out of a ditch in Co Laois (remind us sometime to tell you that story). If Chassagne provides the emotional welterweight, Win Butler represents the drive and the ambition of a band who are soaring on all cylinders. He is also the most likely member of the band to sport a Bono-esque business-out-front-party-out-back haircut in due course.
(4) You need a lot of great songs to go with the kind of panache and pizzazz which Arcade Fire possess when they truly shine. And they have ‘em too. Few, of course, which will trouble daytime radio playlist compilers – those men and women more in tune with the metrics of a focus group spreadsheet rather than their gut instinct – but who needs radio in 2014? As Arcade Fire ravage and rave and ramble and roar through a four album back-catalogue, the songs just fly.
(5) We didn’t really give “Reflektor” its rightful dues. It’s a sprawling bastard of an album and in these times of scurry and hurry, we just don’t have the time or inclination to properly digest that kind of yoke. We should because on the basis of tunes like the title track and especially “We Exist” (New York disco queens pouting and preening to beat the Marlay Park ducks), this is an album which deserves a few more listens. Look, here it is for youse.
(6) Don’t be afraid to look ridiculous. There has often been a air of painful student drama group to Arcade Fire in the past (post “Funeral” especially, as they wondered around in a second album fugue wondering what the hell they were going to do next), but they’ve become comfortable in their skin. They go with the flow. Paint their faces. Ruin their clothes. Take chances. Kick some art in the air and see where it lands.
(7) Give the people what they want. There was quite a contrast between main and support act last night with Pixies marking the 10th year of their anniversary (interestingly, they’re now reformed for longer than they were initially together) with a truculent set. Oh, Pixies gave us everything we wanted – to the second – but there was a fierce sense of going through the motions about it. By contrast, the headliners, a decade on from their debut album and big boys now, are still having a ball.
(8) And they are your people. What was quite remarkable to see last night on a wander around the really full field – it will be ever fuller for Arctic Monkeys, Kings Of Leon and Macklemore in the days to come, though not Kanye West – was that this is a crowd who’ve grown up with the band. Those of us who were expecting a much younger turnout for some reason forgot that Arcade Fire are 10 years in the game now and are a veritable heritage act by some reckonings. Over the years, their Irish shows have taken on the stuff of legend (well, some of them – there weren’t enough people watching them at Oxegen in 2010 to remember anything) and this show will only burnish said legends.
(9) That stage set, man. When you’re competing on this level, you need a deadly stage set to keep people gawking – and stop them talking to their mates or taking selfies, two reasons why gigs in the open air have increasingly become a bag of shite – and wowed. It didn’t quite stop the numpties around me from talking or taking selfies, but it helped.
(10) So, what comes next? When you’ve done a Marlay Park with this kind of fuss-free elegance, the only way is up. It will be fascinating to see where Arcade Fire’s next tour takes them. No doubt OTR’s old mate Scott Rodger already knows. In an era when the live industry is swiveling around madly seeking the next headliner, it’s the progression of a band like Arcade Fire which will tell most about how this will play out.