Posh seats, Chardonnay and proper celebs – welcome to the strange world of the post-fame Win Butler and co
“We were playing fucking Spaceland, like, yesterday,” Win Butler informs the 13,000 people assembled here, every last one of them basking in the glow of his glorious group. Back when Arcade Fire took to the stage of the tiny club to which he refers – not actually yesterday, more like 18 months ago – they were a promising alternative group, those in the know’s little secret. Now though, they’re one of the most highly regarded bands in the world and everyone who’s anyone in Hollywood film and music circles is present tonight, having spent the last few months name-checking their “new favourite live band”.“So this,” Win continues, surveying the vast expanse that is the Hollywood Bowl, “is pretty overwhelming.”Sadly though, if in the notoriously frigid Hollywood set, Arcade Fire manage to induce the sort of all-encompassing euphoria we’ve (almost) become accustomed to seeing at their shows, their friends and current touring partners fare far less spectacularly. Bathed in purple light beneath a giant disco ball, LCD Soundsystem bring things to a steady boil with their super-cool dance-rock stylings and utterly unpretentious demeanour, but steady is what it remains.Following on from slow-burn opener ‘Us V Them’, the arrival of ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ is greeted with cheers and hollers, but hardly anyone gets out of their seat to dance. With people either penned up in the posh box seats or crammed together on ass-numbing benches, this sedentary venue doesn’t seem conducive to boogying.
Not that this appears to matter to James Murphy. When not exercising his pipes, the DFA genius periodically bashes drums or cowbells, piling added layers of rhythm on top of sultry keyboardist Nancy Whang’s blips and beeps. Assisted by stand-in guitarist Al Doyle of fellow dance-rock maestros Hot Chip, Murphy’s troupe maintain a full-force assault, dispensing with booty shakers ‘North American Scum’ and ‘Time To Get Away’ early on. It may have little effect on the curmudgeons still kicking back in their seats, but Murphy and co are having a blast without us. “This is our job – it’s what we do,” he marvels aloud. “Once in a while, you wake up and it’s… weird.”Then, as if to emphasise this surreal sensation and the unlimited power that comes with being a ‘rock star’, he orders all the house lights to be turned down, leaving only a glittering disco ball lighting up the place. The Hollywood Bowl sucks in a collective gasp at the cool effect and notices the starry sky above. It’s a darned pretty sight to say the very least. They close with the waltzing, Bowie-esque ‘New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’ and finally heads turn. They may not have incited their usual dance-party riot – hey, this is Hollywood, darling – but tonight LCD Soundsystem have definitely made a few new allies. And then the magic happens. Arcade Fire have been touring ‘Neon Bible’ for the better part of a year, so it’d be hard to blame them for being a little tour-weary. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned by now, it’s that their relentless energy and sheer exuberance are unstoppable. They valiantly shake off sound troubles during their first two songs, ‘Black Mirror’, and ‘Keep The Car Running’, and by the time they launch into ‘Neighborhood #2 (Laika)’ they’re in full swing and everyone – everyone – is up on their feet, clapping, singing, waving their arms, rejoicing. It’s rare to see such collective euphoria anywhere; in the Hollywood Bowl it’s unheard of.
Win looms large in a dark suit with neon stripes, while his wife and band co-founder, Régine Chassagne, plays the demure nymph in a ruffled red-and-black dress, flitting from one instrument to the next and pulling her best robot dance moves. As ever, the brass and percussion sections see fit to relentlessly beat up on their instruments and each other; we occasionally catch glimpses of tambourines, bongos, megaphones and drumsticks flying through the air.Things get political when Win announces, “This song is for Governor Bush,” before launching into ‘Intervention’, with the all-too-applicable refrain, “Working for the church while your family dies/You take what they give you and keep it inside”.
All the while, red neon Bibles light up the stage in the shadow of a giant pipe organ, which explodes in a waterfall of sound when Win uses it to startling effect during the haunting ‘My Body Is A Cage’.
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Judging from the mass singalongs, Los Angeles has obviously become better acquainted with the ‘Neon Bible’ tunes than when Arcade Fire last came to town in May. But the most crazed screams, the pumping fists and mobile phones held high are reserved for the ‘Funeral’ classics.
The band realise this, and are still saving ‘Wake Up’ for their grand finale. The Hollywood Bowl sways in unison like one giant organism, singing, “Children, wake up” and “Wooooooooooh ooooooh ooooh” so loudly it causes the hairs on the back of each and every neck in the audience to stand up. Some people present tonight may have been feigning fandom of Arcade Fire for effect, but one thing’s for sure: by the time the Bowl has emptied, every last person who spent the night in here is now a genuine devotee.