Live Review: Arcade Fire // The O2, 08.09.22

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The circumstances ahead of Arcade Fire’s night at the O2 could not have been darker, with allegations of sexual misconduct on the band’s lead singer, Win Butler, and news of the Queen’s death filtering in before the show’s start. While the crowd was muted, streaming into the arena minutes before the band took the stage, Arcade Fire ensured it would be a memorable night.

Without an opening act, DJ Cosmo Gonik took centre stage in the middle of the arena, treating the audience to an eccentric mix of world music while playing the maracas. Shortly after leaving the B-stage, Arcade Fire emerged from the crowd, paying tribute to the Queen in the form of a minute’s silence and a recording of a Louis Armstrong funeral song, before bursting into the first two songs of their debut album Funeral. Their emphatic renditions of ‘Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)’ and ‘Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)’ were enough to get the crowd moving before taking the main stage.

The concert was hit after hit after hit, with a smattering of deep cuts thrown in to appease the long-time fans – Butler apologised for forgetting the lyrics before playing ‘Deep Blue’. Halfway through the concert, Butler made his way into the crowd to perform ‘Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole)’. If anyone in the audience had not yet been won over, they were at this point.

In fact, many songs from We translated superbly to the live show, with both ‘Age of Anxiety’ songs providing enough tension and call-and-response action to have the arena jumping. The enthusiasm  with which they played ‘The Lightning’ saw it join ‘Rabbit Hole’ as one of the clear staples of their set, and the saccharine ‘Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)’ came complete with inflatable tube men.

The biggest applause, however, was reserved for Butler’s wife, Régine Chassagne. During ‘Reflektor’, Chassagne danced under the B-stage’s mirrorball, splitting the duet across the arena before Butler joined her to play ‘My Body Is a Cage’. 

‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ was by far the highlight of the show, even above singalong anthems like ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ – a reminder of why Arcade Fire took the risk to pivot to dance music. Like Butler earlier, Chassagne entered the crowd and danced the night away to the neon euphoria of the song.

After two hours, Arcade Fire returned to the B-stage for their encore. Though appreciated by the crowd, their performances of ‘End of the Empire’ and Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ were meandering at best, especially in anticipation for that ‘Wake Up’ chorus. 

The former two songs were interesting choices ahead of some of the band’s biggest hits – ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)’ and ‘No Cars Go’ for example – but a reminder of the wealth of the band’s catalogue they can now draw from (even the maligned ‘Everything Now’ was incredible live).

Perhaps due to the circumstances of the show,  Will Butler leaving the band, or even the choice of venue, the concert lacked that final spark despite there being plenty of energy. Yet Win Butler handled much of this with ease, both before and during the songs – nostalgic in ‘The Suburbs’, idealistic in ‘We’, and apologetic in ‘Lookout Kid’, referencing the allegations in the three-song run, not to mention an electric, impassioned performance of ‘Afterlife’.

In 2017, the band was roundly criticised for losing their youthful sincerity for excessive irony and preachiness. While there is no doubt that Arcade Fire have aged, and some disillusionment has crept in, tonight was a reminder of why they remain one of the best live bands in the world. Their songs are still rousing as they were almost two decades ago, and despite all the talk of the band selling out, their performances remain magnetic, of a band that isn’t ready to call it quits. 

Words by Stephen Ong


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