There's comfort to be taken from the band's biggest headline gig, despite its bleak undertones
“We never thought we’d get to play a venue like The O2 and we feel so lucky that we get to play it twice, so we wanted to do something cool and exciting and unique,” Dan Smith tells NME the day before Bastille step out on stage at the huge arena.
The band should consider their aims resoundingly achieved – from start to finish, their show is a masterclass in creativity and passion.
Even before the four-piece emerge from their dressing room, they can check off those objectives. The newsreader figure from their ‘Fake It’ video introduces the support bands (‘80s-ish synth-pop sisters Jagara and the silky, soulful Rationale) and fills time between sets messing around with chocolate biscuits, eating a banana and practicing hand gestures. It not only ties the whole night together, it also makes things feel less like a gig and more like a voyage into a secret world – and it speaks to our constant need to be entertained by things on screens.
Then, with the ‘WWCOMMS’ logo spinning on the triangular block of screens above the stage and the politician’s introduction done, the band stride out onto stage, accompanied by additional strings and brass players. The suited host of the night appears on the screen behind them, lip-syncing the sample at the start of ‘Send Them Off!’ and we’re off, Smith bouncing on a box at the front of the stage, dashing across the platform and expending ludicrous amounts of energy.
“It’s completely ridiculous that we’re allowed to be here,” he tells the audience before ‘Laura Palmer’ – the first of many times he’ll humbly enthuse about the occasion. If it wasn’t clear that tonight means everything to the group already, it becomes blindingly obvious during ‘Flaws’ when Smith jumps off stage and heads for a platform at the back of the room, ducking in and out of the crowd as he goes. Back up above his fans, he yells into the microphone: “Let’s fucking sing it O2!”
Following the narrative thread of second album ‘Wild World’, tonight’s show has more than an air of dystopia about it. There are visuals designed to ape rolling news stations, and during ‘Four Walls (The Ballad Of Perry Smith)’ (described as “straight-up incredibly depressing” by the frontman), the screens show only the dismal image of a chain-link fence surrounded by barbed wire. ‘Blame’, meanwhile, is accompanied by a plethora of CCTV camera feeds.
After ‘The Currents’, a song about feeling suffocated by and trying to escape hateful opinions and lies that pollute modern society, Smith dedicates the track to “that toxic orange idiot”, Donald Trump. Bastille themselves would be the first to admit they’re not offering any solutions to these issues, but where the world feels like it’s going to hell in a handcart, tonight Bastille offer hope. Hope that not everyone believes the noxious words authority figures constantly spout. Hope that there’s still some good in the world. Hope that, no matter how bleak things get, people will still stand up for what’s right.
That the band have managed to create a show that makes you think about such weighty issues without bludgeoning you with opinions is exciting enough. That they’ve done so while maintaining the feeling that you’re having the night of your life is almost awe-inspiring. Perhaps it’s the deceptively upbeat nature of most of their songs, or Smith’s boundless enthusiasm, or the moments like ‘Of The Night’ when giant blasts of ticker tape and streamers litter the room as the frontman conducts the audience from the back of the venue. Whatever it is, Bastille have walked the tightrope of putting a message into your show without reverting to preaching and made it across the other side without so much of a wobble.
The group close the night, as ever, on ‘Pompeii’. After all the mock propaganda and apocalyptic undertones of the show, one of the song’s central lines – “How am I gonna be an optimist about this?” – takes on new meaning, ditching the context of two former citizens of the Roman city surveying its demise and adopting that of the world in 2016. The answer, it seems, comes in the WWCOMMS slogan that has appeared on the screens at various points of the night and is one of the last things shown as the band exit the room – “Here for you, wherever you are”. As the made-up media company’s strapline, it’s sinister and ominous. In relation to the band, however, it speaks to the unifying effect of nights like tonight and music in general. Bastille aren’t setting out to fix the world with one tour, but they are giving us comfort and faith in humanity.