Caught Live: Arcade Fire @ The O2, London
Through frozen streets, over snowdrift-covered roads, braving the sub-zero temperatures of this London December, the Arcade Fire faithful have delivered themselves to here, the ultimate suburban shopping mall of a music venue, to witness a band suited to the circumstance like no other.
Against a paradoxically familiar but alienating backdrop – a vast projection of an angular concrete motorway overpass – Win Butler leads his merry troops out to a raucous ovation that begins with the first chimes of ‘Ready To Start’ and barely wanes until the lights go up on encore-closer ‘Wake Up’ (what else?).
As Butler and cohorts scale the early heights of ‘No Cars Go’ and ‘Neighborhood #2 (Laïka)', the warmth emanating from both the band and their music is enveloping – strangely heartfelt and personal in such a cavernous setting. Their tapping of the spirit of Neutral Milk Hotel and the quiet-loud majesty of Pixies is at once uniquely atmospheric and wonderfully warm. Safe? Certainly, but as musical winter companions go, one could hardly ask for more.
Admittedly, the set does sag a little as the middle section of ‘Rococo’ and ‘Crown of Love’ fail to deliver the contrasts they willingly proffer on record; as a result, the tone briefly threatens to settle into something more dirge-like than euphoric. This proves to be a temporary lull, however, as the mighty ‘Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)’, with its evocative, pained lyric and beautiful suggestion of lost, post-apocalyptic youth raises the Canadians back to the top of their game and draws a few semi-frozen tears from the congregation.
With a mighty ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ and ‘We Used to Wait’ double-header to close the main set, we are left only with the inevitable Springsteenesque majesty of ‘Keep The Car Running’ and the aforementioned finale of ‘Wake Up’ to send us renewed, warmed and delighted into the night. There is little in the musical world that compares to the joyous union of band and fan during that last chorus – it’s something that is as affecting as it is honest every time they play it (which is, of course, every time they play), and it symbolises just how deep a connection it is possible to have with a big old rock 'n' roll band in these cold, dark days.