It’s a bitter Sunday evening and crowds are making their pilgrimage up the steep climbs of Muswell Hill. Looming out of the darkness appears the almost supernaturally illuminated silhouette of the chosen destination in its Art Deco glory. The location of morose grandeur that exudes from Alexandra Palace provides a fitting home for the second night of Canadian Baroque rock ensemble Arcade Fire’s London dates.
As the audience swarm into the grand hall, Liverpool four-piece Clinic open the evening of festivities. In keeping with the eeriness experienced upon entering and the presumptions of the typical Arcade Fire performance, the usual attire has been given a morbid revamp as they emerge wearing the obligatory scrubs but this time in black. They rumble through an eclectic selection from their ten year back-catalogue, providing the perfect prelude to the main act and culminating in a terrific rendition of the organ-dominated Walking with Thee.
The support acts done and dusted, the crowd perch uncannily still and silently, focussing on the gothic alter-like stage. The miscellany of instruments that inundate the relatively small stage are overshadowed by the monstrous pipe organ looming, whilst spotlight projections blast low quality footage of obsessive preaching. With that this congregation-like crowd’s very own preacher emerges from the darkness. “So, this is our fucking Sunday school,” Win Butler booms through the cheers of veneration. The inaudible rumbling grows and grows until the entourage burst into the familiar strumming of Black Mirror. The sinister strings that dominate this track provide an apt introduction to the gathering of this evening. Win leads his troupe of the usual six accompanying members and three more for good measure through a perfect recital of Neon Bible, as well as a few nostalgic treats from debut album, Funeral.
Occasionally it is the turn of Win’s wife, the angelic Regine Chassagne to take lead vocals for the likes of Black Wave/Bad Vibrations and Funeral favourite Laika. Her childlike voice provides a haunting accompaniment to the furious playing that encapsulates the band into a catatonic-like state. Looking around, it seems that the audience are also suffering from this trance that is sweeping over the venue as still they have not stirred. This is a typical Arcade Fire crowd that makes seeing this group so unique. All bar the occasional fidget, they are very static, mesmerised in the enchantment of activities on this intimate stage. It isn’t until the encore, containing the two most buoyant tracks from their entire repertoire, Keep the Car Running and Crown of Love that some do muster a sway of appreciation as the tone uplifts.
As the stage declines into darkness again and the crowds disperse, there is still almost silence. There is never any doubt that Arcade Fire will fail to deliver. Their performance is in fact typically so overwhelming it takes a good while for what has been witnessed to sink in, signified by the almost dumb-struck audience. For the witnessing of an Arcade Fire performance is a rite of passage within itself.