A memory, a moment to carry with you

8 Jul

The blog was dead.

It’s nearly been two years.  I don’t know why I stopped blogging but the reasons to start again are simple.

Yesterday I saw Arcade Fire once again in the fantastic setting of the Hackney Empire, playing as well as I’ve ever heard them….I’m tempted to say better than ever before but my head’s not thinking straight.  I am buzzing, in a spin, swept away by a band that made me fall in love with music, and that reaffirmed to me last night  that they are truly very special.  It will take a long time to better the experience of having stood, clapped, danced, jumped, swayed, stretched out my arms and sung my lungs out,  all in the front row two metres from Win’s microphone, alive in the moment – wrapped up in glow of the best live band I’ve ever seen.

No support necessary.  It was a parallel of those early shows back at St John’s Church in Westminster – cold, grey January days when the band decided to test out their new Neon Bible songs to small London audiences.  But as much as i couldn’t stop reminiscing about those very special shows, yesterday it was a different band on stage – a parallax maybe.  Same band, different perspective.  In the warm, still summer evening they took to the stage with a confidence that underlined a more relaxed, more playful band – none of the nervous fervour of January 2007.   I had staved off listening to bootlegs of the new songs.  So besides the four officially released songs, the new material was just that.

Abandoned Californian Suburbs

Pained and angry, yet upbeat, opener Ready To Start sounded tight, mature, bristling with an restrained energy that oscillated between the dark and the light..“business men drinking my blood, like the kids in our|art school said the would/ But I guess we’ll just begin again/ You said we’d still be friends.” One of my favourite lyrical moments of the new songs comes just about halfway through the song, a simple little verse which poignantly captures a feeling I’m sure so many of us have felt as kids and teenagers, even as adults. “Now you’re knocking at my door/ Saying please come out with us tonight/ But I’d rather be alone/ Than pretend I feel alright.” That’s when Win Butler is so strong as a lyricist – it’s the intimate reflections on growing up that stick in the mind – not the grand, thematic questionings of Neon Bible.  As the song then swells up with an almost violent kick it’s clear that whilst Funeral was concerned with keeping within the imaginative world of the childhood psyche, The Suburbs’ subtler, more sophisticated approach balances the past with the present – the adult mind that holds such memories of growing up is there – watching, waiting and breathing just below the surface.

Arcade Fire – Ready to Start by MiscMusic

David Lynch's Blue Velvet

Then into Modern ManRichard Reed Parry playing a beautiful, beautiful looking and sounding guitar.  Not as immediately enamouring as Ready To Start, but a great beat with a  soul/motowny lilt, Regine dancing away between the synths, Sarah and Marika moving to the playful, stop start rhythm and Win singing a oh-so Arcade Fire-y monologue.  Next,  Laika made sure the crowd were under the spell of the band – the first song I ever fell in love with.  A song which seems as if it had been with me forever, a tune I’m sure I hummed as a five year old – and which, on hearing it for the first time, felt like it had been written just for me.

No Cars Go and Haiti followed.  The string of three classic songs a reminder of just how incredible the band’s early work is.  They did seem to establish a divide between the old and new, but the band played both with such conviction and passion and care that it’s clear come the next time I see them (hopefully) such a division is unlikely to exist.

Empty Room has all the promise of a great great song, but the vocals were too low – Regine and Win drowned out by the shimmering noise of four guitars and a drum kit.  Something really beautiful could be sensed, but it was too far back in the sound to see and hear its shape and form.  Similarly Rococo suffered a bit from low vocals and excessively quiet strings, but it’s rolling, mechanical wind up was spine tingling – the release joyously rebellious, brash and full.  Harpsichord like horror movie keyboard chords swelled into a chorus as if an army of  awoken spirits had declared war on auto-tune.  Like Wake Up, Keep the Car Running and so many other songs, the vocal chorus, the unashamedly raw sound of a band and an audience singing pure sound (ohhh, ahhhs, laasss, all beyond words, all universal) swept up from the stage to the starry ceiling of the theatre.

The Suburbs/Suburban War combo slowed the pace. The lazy, summery roll of the title track translating better live than some earlier shows suggested. But still a rare weak point in the night; however, on the plus side it offered a moment to admire the Spike Jonze visuals on the billboard style tv screen above the stage.  There is something so delicate and precise about the record version that didn’t come across live.  It’ll be exciting to see how it ends up as a live song vs a album song, in the way that Haiti live and on record are two different creatures.  Suburban War sounded good, but not especially memorable, despite a brilliant shift in mood towards the end of the song.

Intervention has never been a favourite of mine, but the crowd loved it – the bombast and hyperbolic lyrics just about managing to fill the venue.

We Used to Wait has been my highlight from the singles released so far, and live it was equally fascinating.  It really seems to mark an exciting change in direction.  Again, motown influences can be heard, but disco beats too, a dark dance-y pulse drifting through the chorus in a way that still retains a rock feel.  I doubt it’ll be the song I listen to the most off the album, but it seems like an important step for the band.  Electronic elements are incorporated in a way which stays true to the instrumental pedantry we are so used to from the band.  It’s a song which really underlines the older/younger dual viewpoint I mentioned earlier on and talks of a type of growing up which isn’t just from childhood to adulthood, but from early adulthood into a person’s 30s.  It also seems to reflect that band and the conflicts they face as artists with huge critical as well as growing commercial success.  “Now our lives are changing fast/Now our lives are changing fast/Hope that something pure can last/Hope that something pure can last”

And so, as the gig heads toward its end Powellion and new song Month of May keep the crowd on dancing for 13 or so minutes.  The first two songs as fun, passionate and perfect as ever and Month of May sure to become a live staple – something far greater live than on record – barely contained energy pushing the song towards a precipitous position – chaotic and frenetic and brilliant.

And then the encore.

I don’t think I’ll even bother describing it.  It was just perfect.  The crowd were smiling, the band were smiling. Everyone screaming their hearts out.


Ready To Start
Modern Man
No Cars Go
Empty Room
Suburban War
We Used To Wait
Power Out -> Rebellion
Month of May
Crown of Love
Wake Up

We Used To Wait by Arcade Fire


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