Arcade Fire @ The 02

‘O come, let us sing unto the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation’.

If I had to think of two ways to describe the remarkable rise and rise of the Arcade Fire, ‘joyful noise’ and ‘the rock of our salvation’ would both seem fairly apposite. Since the release of their debut album, Funeral, they have acquired a significant reputation both as a trendsetting and innovative album band – with comparisons to acts as eclectic and significant as Radiohead, Talking Heads and U2 all seeming deserved – and, perhaps most of all, as a live act. I’ve seen several of their shows over the years, beginning with a still unforgettable night at St John’s Smith’s Square, which ended with the band taking to the outside of the church to busk Wake Up acoustically, surrounded by their adoring fans and creating a synergy between performers and audience that I’ve never seen before or since.

On the first night of their long-awaited return to the UK proper (after summer gigs at Reading, Leeds and at the Hackney Empire), they managed to make the cavernous 02 arena seem intimate, almost welcoming. (Approving comments were heard afterwards comparing it favourably to their previous gigs at the Brixton Academy and Ally Pally). An immaculately chosen set list combined around half a dozen of the most immediately accessible songs from The Suburbs (including disco-like stomper Mountains Beyond Mountains and the instant classic We Used To Wait, almost certainly the most stirring song ever written about sending letters) along with some of their most famous earlier tracks.

It’s fascinating to listen to the difference between the songs from Neon Bible (my own favourite album by the band so far), which tend to be portentous and slow-building epics that climax in chest-beating, heart-pounding crescendos of noise, and those from Funeral, which still have the beguilingly offbeat and exhilarating qualities that made so many people love the band from the first time they heard them. Whether it’s the Scott Walker-meets-dance stomp of Crown Of Love, the thrilling meshing of Power Out and Rebellion, and of course the mighty singalong finale of Wake Up, there’s no doubt, watching this magnificent, wonderful band, that they’re very much in it for the long haul. O come, let us sing unto the band, for theirs is indeed a joyful noise.

Incidentally – on a purely personal note, can I mention in passing that the ever-charming and increasingly glamorous Regine Chassagne is coming to seem more and more the heart and soul of the band?

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