Roundhouse, November 11
“For all those people who felt uncomfortable dressing up,” says Win Butler in his fancy trousers and jazzy jacket, “I’m not sorry.” Arcade Fire are feeling playful, and they’re not being polite about making you join in. But all those with legitimate concerns about being asked to adhere to a dress code in the name of having a good time needn’t have worried. Because while this carnival concept and smallish warm-up gig feels like an event, it doesn’t feel like organised fun. Casually dressed fans are not scolded on the doorstep, but rather greeted by a cheery mariachi band. Carnival photos and silver glitter curtains line the walls, and the band’s massive papier mâché head proxies wander freely through the crowd, bestowing uncanny vibes to the sound of a dubbed-up indie mixtape. Plus the crowd looks great. As Win assures them: “The chances of everyone getting laid tonight have gone up 10,000 per cent. As long as you showered.”
Arcade Fire have themselves come in disguise, as their alter egos The Reflektors. It’s a neat trick to signal the shedding of their musical skins, the band emerging in 2013 as a sleek, playful funk-dance-rock-calypso-dub thing. The black curtain bearing their pretend name drops to reveal the band backed by a pair of exuberant conga players and the brothers Butler in tiger masks. Their new garb, though, doesn’t restrict the Arcade Fire underneath, and it’s mere seconds before Win has bounded on top of a monitor and Will is headbanging along to ‘Reflektor’. The night is already galvanised by the frenetic energy you normally associate with the end of an Arcade Fire gig. Next up is an “Arcade Fire song”, as Win puts it, and a full-throttle, jaw-dropping take on ‘Power Out’ complete with sweet conga syncopation. “Alright, fuck it, let’s go!” barks Win, and the crowd duly loses its masked shit.
The dubby, Clash-like moodswing of ‘Flashbulb Eyes’ is third, and Win hammers home the song’s anti-camera point by nicking a snapper’s kit to take shots of the crowd. From his viewpoint, he must be able to see how fast the fans have taken these new songs to their hearts. The glam-punk romp of ‘Joan Of Arc’ instigates moshing, and for ‘We Exist’ a dancing instructor directs them in co-ordinated arm sways. Then Win is effusive in his thanks for ‘Reflektor’’s Number One placing in the UK album charts. “It means there’s enough of you weirdos out there that for a week, the world can be an OK place.” Talking of weirdos… here comes ‘Normal Person’, another huge live song adored by fans. But not before Win has a bit of a chat to the crowd.
“We’re The Reflektors. We’ve been a fake band since 19-fakety-fake. People from art school, playing in a fake band, pretending to play guitar, pretending that their guitar is art.” Er… OK. But his prickliness about the criticism the band’s return has garnered is touching, and can’t obscure the messy and stroppy human heart of this band. Later he’ll comment: “Cultural appropriation, kiss my ass,” while giving props to photographer Leah Gordon – author of the book Kanaval, whose pictures deck the hall – and dedicating ‘Crown Of Love’ to her late father.
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At this point, the carnival has barely begun. The conga players really crank up the frenzy and Win gets his big head on (a joke in itself: they’re too full of themselves! They think they’re U2!) for a cover of Devo’s ‘Uncontrollable Urge’ so glitzy it almost sounds like The Sweet. It’s arty, funny and arch, but playful. It’s Talking Heads, not Radiohead. Régine shakes what her mama gave her, wagging her fingers at the crowd as the band are swept up into the dizzying whirl of ‘Here Comes The Night Time’ – a maelstrom of joy, mirrorballs and confetti during which Win mock-shoots his fake head with his finger.
The final song is not ‘Wake Up’ as usual, but ‘Haiti’, without which country, Win notes “I wouldn’t have a wife, and we never would have made this album.” The song’s silvery, rippling beauty is a stunning final note, as the band depart to leave their dolled-up and delirious crowd to the endless possibilities of a Monday night masquerade ball.