If the thought was that, by making the attendees for their shows wear “formal attire or costume”, Arcade Fire were maybe engaged in some kind of experiment on the boundaries of what is acceptable for an artist to demand of an audience, then the softening of the dress code for tonight from “mandatory” to “not strictly enforced” put paid to that.
If the thought was that the whole band, within a band construct of The Reflektors, was maybe making some other point, there’s not much evidence of that either. The ticket says The Reflektors, the projection beforehand says The Reflektors (except for a period where it says Panasonic, but we’ll assume that’s a mistake) but for all the misdirection, to all intents and purposes, the band up on the Roundhouse’s stage still seem pretty much like Arcade Fire.
So they all still continually run round manically swapping instruments. They’re still humble, honest and actually pretty goofy. There are heartfelt declarations of thanks for the support, and majority of those on stage still sing along in a manner not normally associated with performers, far more akin to hardcore fans who’ve somehow found themselves next to their favourite band and who are now absolutely determined to make the most of it.
Then of course there’s Regine Chassange, who spends most of her time either grinning with disarmingly charming earnestness and dancing with unbridled joy (and ribbons). Even when Win Butler tells us “For anyone who felt uncomfortable about dressing up, I’m not sorry” it doesn’t seem barbed. If the subtext is that some of the frippery which has dominated the build up is at worst a gimmick and at best immediately forgotten, then the text is that live, still, Arcade Fire offer an experience that brings a throng together in massed, feverish celebration.
That remains true for the new songs. Mostly, and unsurprisingly, tonight is about new album Reflektor. The thrashy new-wave of Normal Person is like Devo – perhaps even more so than their Devo cover (Uncontrollable Urge) which throws various cock rock guitar poses as Win stumbles about the stage in a oversized papier-mâché head. It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus) is revelatory, in keeping with those great Arcade Fire songs that endlessly shift dynamics and yearn desperately, but that now has a throbbing pulsing core, and Joan Of Arc sounds like an anthem in waiting.
The pacing issues which bog down the album aren’t as obvious here. The beats (assisted by two Haitian percussionists, Diol and Tiwill), the moonwalking strut of the basslines and the James Murphy indebted synths combine with the more traditional baroque elements of their music to give the show a hyperkinetic energy. That blend comes together perfectly on Here Comes The Night Time, confetti cannons fire, glitterballs spin and it sounds like a carnival collapsing under the weight of its own party. It is spectacular fun.
Do they need to tell people what to wear? Do they need the pseudonyms? There isn’t a definitive answer to either of those things offered here. But that shouldn’t get in the way of what is made abundantly clear: that Arcade Fire remain a live act of astonishing vibrancy.
Arcade Fire played: Reflektor, Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), Flashbulb Eyes, Joan of Arc, You Already Know, We Exist, It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus), Afterlife, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), Normal Person, Uncontrollable Urge (Devo cover), Here Comes The Night Time Encore: Crown Of Love, Haiti