“There’s actually a spirit in a room like this,” Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler says after commanding near-silence from the crowd at KOKO. “There’s some major shit that’s gone down in here. There was a fire that almost burnt it to the ground, and it’s been a really fucked up a couple years.” Tonight, the Canadian indie-rockers become the first band to perform at the iconic Camden music venue following a £70 million restoration project, a refurb so new that you can still smell the fresh paint.
But there’s even more cause for celebration, with the christening of the revamped venue also marking Arcade Fire’s first UK show in four years, ahead of the release of sixth studio album ‘WE’ this week. The uncertain times that birthed the record are addressed in set opener ‘Age Of Anxiety I’, before charging ahead with the rip-roaring kinetic arrangements of ‘Ready To Start’. The subdued charm of ‘The Suburbs’ then allows Butler a moment to relish in the crowd’s optimistic echo of the chorus: “Sometimes I can’t believe it / I’m moving past the feeling”. But just as easily as the house is brought to a still for the hymnal ‘My Body Is A Cage’, the intimate space is revived by a spirited rendition of ‘Afterlife’ – possessing Butler to charge into the crowd under a shimmering disco ball – which is followed by the galactic synths of ‘Reflektor’.
The nine-strong group’s eccentric coordination is a spectacle in itself, as they rotate and rearrange seamlessly between instruments in a makeshift fashion that almost feels improvised. This communal spirit carries them through the carefree glow of ‘Sprawl II’ and the jubilant piano melodies of ‘Everything Now’. But there’s also showy fun in Régine Chassagne’s piercing LED laser knuckles and the beaming belt she dons during ‘Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)’, or the chorus line of wacky inflatable tube dancers which sprout from the audience in the five-song encore that features propulsive slow-burner ‘The Lightning I and II’.
The set crescendos with timeless favourite ‘Wake Up’, conjuring a biblical chant from the crowd. One final encore follows after the show’s livestream is cut as Butler insists he’s had enough of “that internet shit”, before debuting epic odyssey ‘End Of The Empire I-IV’. While there is a celebration of the old and new, tonight is about looking forward to what marks a new era for both the band and a legendary venue. With an album that journeys through fear and loneliness to joy and reconnection, KOKO’s intimate, historic walls prove to be the perfect setting to do just that.
Arcade Fire played:
‘Age Of Anxiety I’
‘Ready To Start’
‘The Suburbs (Continued)’
‘Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)’
‘My Body Is A Cage’
‘Age Of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)’
‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’
‘The Lightning I’
‘The Lightning II’
‘Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)’
‘End Of The Empire I-III’ (live debut)
‘End Of The Empire IV’ (Sagittarius A*) (live debut)