Arcade Fire play ‘Linger’ in Dolores O’Riordan tribute in Dublin
Band conjure late lump-in-throat moment with Cranberries cover during 3Arena set
Arcade Fire concerts have always been heartily provisioned with lump-in throat moments. The band’s first Irish performance, at Electric Picnic 2005, featured an impassioned stage-dive from frontman Win Butler; playing Dublin in 2010, he devoted much of his between-song patter to expressions of empathy with Ireland over its economic meltdown. It was Burn The Bondholders: The Rock Musical.
Even by the Canadian-American ensemble’s traditional standards, though, the dewy cover of The Cranberries’ Linger, with which they crowned their encore during Friday night’s gig at 3Arena, came as a surprise – an instance of grace dropping from the clear blue sky.
This was a raw and generous tribute to the late Dolores O’Riordan – ardent in that classic Arcade Fire way, with Butler delivering a husky, earnest approximation of O’Riordan’s ethereal yelp and encouraging the audience to join in.
Clearly it meant something to the group, who rarely perform other artists’ music (the only other cover this year a tilt at John Lennon’s Mind Games). And regardless of your stance on The Cranberries – never universally beloved at home – it was impossible not to feel something as the 14,000 or so in attendance weighed in on the chorus.
The bright, shining sincerity also stood out in the context of Arcade Fire’s current tour. Infinite Content is a slightly heavy-handed diatribe against corporatism run amok and the slithering reach of Fake News, delivered from a mocked-up boxing ring in the centre of the crowd.
In ways both good and bad, the production is essentially U2’s Zoo TV for millennials, with Arcade Fire aggressively (and, it must be said, thrillingly) rebooting a stage persona previously synonymous with indie rock fervency and vintage leisurewear. They used to dress like a riot in a thrift shop – at 3Arena, it was all shiny polyester and ironic jumpsuits.
Little in Arcade Fire’s music or history, it should be noted, suggests an affection for The Cranberries. The North Americans are wilfully grandiose, brash in their way, and just a bit ridiculous (that’s not a slight – in rock music, performed absurdity is almost always a positive). Did Win Butler spend his Houston adolescence lost inside Dolores O’Riordan’s Celtic introversion? Was he a secret Zombie acolyte? I’ve asked the internet and the internet has shrugged and said, “no, probably not”.
That said, if you look past the shimmering zip-ups and the wide-brim hat Butler has sported through the Infinite Content dates (at least until someone tried to steal it during an audience walk-about in Dublin), there are parallels.
Both Arcade Fire and The Cranberries emerged when cocksure rock was having a moment. In the case of The Cranberries, their peers and rivals were early Britpop preeners such as Suede and the dregs of grunge. Arcade Fire, for their part, came along just as the British music press was falling into an extended swoon over jangling jesters like The Libertines (arguably the last band The NME made famous on its own). Out of the blocks, each could be defined as much as by what they weren’t as by what they were.
Then there is the fact neither Butler nor Dolores O’Riordan are cut from conventional rock star cloth. She was shy and, circa Linger, crippled by self-awareness. Butler, son of a wealthy Texas oil industry executive (Win attended the same New England prep-school as Mark Zuckerberg), is apparently incapable of writing a song that doesn’t at least try to make a connection with the entire cosmos. Neither would pass any sort of cool test.
Possibly we’re over-thinking all this. Maybe Butler, Björk-esque lieutenant Régine Chassagne (also his wife) and the rest of the group were merely saddened by O’Riordan’s death at 46 and decided it might be nice to pay tribute.
Yet there was something about the manner in which they inhabited Linger – a dirge that, in the wrong hands, could turn soggy and maudlin – that spoke to a deeper affinity. It was a spectacular moment – all the more so because it seemed to appear from nowhere, manifesting amid the dry ice and then, a heartbeat later, fading to nothing.