“Weighing in at a collective 2100 pounds, it’s Arcaaaaaade Fii-YEEEERR!” To a discordant soundclash of orchestral bombast and disco beats, Arcade Fire fight their way to the ring through the crowd, high-fiving and jabbing at the air as their respective wrestling profiles flash across the overhead Jumbotrons. Win ‘Pasty Destroyer’ Butler ducks through the ropes, followed by Regine ‘The Ribbonweaver’ Chassangne and the rest of their nine-handed tag team. Occasionally critically bowed but, live, still unbeaten.
The ‘EN’ logo circles ominously on the screens over the wrestling ring stage in the centre of Wembley Arena but there’s little of the misplayed band-in-thrall-to-evil-corporation schtick that blighted the promo campaign for new album ‘Everything Now’ on show tonight. Instead, the Infinite Content’s first London stop is a no holds barred two-hour smackdown of visceral alt-rock showmanship and spectacle, so dazzling that you don’t give a shit if it’s fixed. Rumble? We are ready.
Ding ding! Rrrrround one! Win stands on a coach’s box on the stage’s revolving central podium and leads the band into the insta-classic ‘Everything Now’, a seamless stitching of disco and country rock that climaxes in a throttle-hold squall of noise out of which emerges ‘Rebellion (Lies)’. William Butler grabs a drum and bounces off the ropes, hammering at it like a rabid ring girl; Win empties a pugilistic bottle of water over his head, takes up a cowbell and teases out a cowboy disco coda that becomes the hazy gothic calypso of ‘Here Comes The Night Time’. By the time ‘No Cars Go’ roars out in a cacophonous frenzy the show has built the free-flowing intensity of a rave, slipping and gliding between genres as though Arcade Fire are a boundless pop cult with the keys to the musical universe.
In round two, the ropes come off and things go decidedly off-ring. During the electro ‘Electric Blue’ a spotlight on the crowd on the arena floor illuminates what at first looks like Diversity moshing – it turns out to be a section of the standing area where dancers perform routines amongst the crowd throughout the show. Regine and Win wander out there occasionally to dance with glittery girl troupes – the most glamorous circle pit ever – or sing a karaoke version of ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’ from lyrics on the overhead screens.
It’s an extension of the inclusiveness that has often seen Arcade Fire perform in foyers or marching through the crowd, not so much a band you want to be in but a band that, simply by being part of their live experience, you kind of already are. Surprise guest Chrissie Hynde is certainly made to feel welcome as the band emphasise the similarities between ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ and the party bit at the end of ‘Wake Up!’ Only the sublime ‘Put Your Money On Me’, a glowing disco crucifix shoved in the face of the capitalist vampire, reminds us of ‘Everything Now’’s neoliberal-baiting commentary; the rest of the show is a parade of euphoric showstoppers delivered with an unabashed exuberance and sense of unity that over-rides the often dour, dystopian themes.
Two hours of multi-faceted 21st Century rock gig simply whoosh by. There’s a round of downbeat early brooders (‘Neon Bible’, ‘My Body Is A Cage’, ‘Intervention’, a take on ‘The Suburbs’ drenched in the aura of Prohibition-era theatre). There’s a punchy round of ‘Reflektor’ electronica, centred around a magnificent ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’, a true disco epic that sees a strutting glitterball Regine commanding darkness at every chorus end and weaving heart shapes in their air with ribbons.
And there are moments of untameable power. A brace of rampaging ‘Neighbourhoods’ – ‘#1 (Tunnels)’ and ‘#3 ‘Power Out)’. The uplifting melodies carrying the bleak messages of body dysmorphia anthem ‘Creature Comfort’ and ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’, the kind of misery lullaby that Lou Reed might have sung to his kids. And, of course, the cataclysmic ‘Wake Up!’, a wondrous communion of anthemic ennui that sees the stage fill with Hynde, Bryce from The National and support act the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and ends with the entire cast meandering out into the audience for an unamplified brass band final chorus. Gig of the year? It’s a takedown.