Dinosaurs, mad hatters, 1920s flappers and even human glitter balls were all in attendance at Arcade Fire’s short-notice warm-up gig for their Reflektor tour at the Roundhouse on Monday – the first of two dates they played there this week under the pseudonym ‘The Reflektors’.
The dress code had been ‘fancy dress or formal attire mandatory’, with frontman Win Butler’s philosophy behind this being that if they have to dress up every night, why shouldn’t the fans? Addressing this in the show, Butler said ‘To everyone who feels uncomfortable dressing up tonight… I’m not sorry’ and went on to say that it had probably helped everyone to ‘get laid’, adding ‘As long as you showered. That’s the secret. Boys…’
The show kicked off with a forceful performance of their recent single ‘Reflektor’, and the power of the band’s live presence really shined through, notably in multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne’s charming dance moves and delicate soprano vocals, which were even more hauntingly beautiful live than on record.
Towards the end of the track, spotlights were directed towards the giant glitter balls that hung above the crowd, sending miniature flecks of light across the walls of the intimate venue. Awareness kicked in that I’d stepped into a disco jungle of misfit indie-rock appreciators, and it was incredible.
‘This is an Arcade Fire song’ said Butler -continuing the pretence of their pseudonym- before they played ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)’ from their debut album Funeral – a soaring, serious rock anthem with an addictive glockenspiel hook that worked just as well now in the context of the elated, glitter-strewn party atmosphere as it had in their darker days, because it injected the feeling of dancing away your troubles which emanates so intensely from their most recent album, especially in laid-back dance track ‘Here Comes the Night Time’, which focuses on the idea of the sun going down after a Haitian carnival, and people rushing to be home because they don’t have electricity.
Midway into the set, whilst everyone was still buzzing from the unrelenting energy of their performance, Butler stopped to thank the UK for containing ‘enough weirdos’ to make Reflektor number one, even if just for one week. He put a stopper on the sardonic humour to give a heartfelt speech expressing his gratitude for us embracing them from the start.
One of the remarkable things about Arcade Fire right now is their ability to be unashamedly indulgent in the style and themes of their albums, whilst retaining in their public appearance a consistent air of self-mocking, which brings them in touch with their crowd.
For instance, Butler preceded ‘Normal Person’ with the seemingly improvised lyrics ‘People from art school playing in a fake band/People from art school pretending to play guitar/People from art school pretending that playing guitar is art…’, showing us that the pretension of playing under a pseudonym was a mere façade – it was a dig at the notion of carrying those sorts of pretensions in the music scene.
Fittingly, ‘Normal Person’ erupted into a display of their ability to knock out explosive rock’n’roll, and it was during the riff-centred, don’t-care chorus that I came closest to feeling like a mosh pit might kick in. Having been sufficiently bashed around during ‘Normal Person’ and then their cover of Devo’s ‘Uncontrollable Urge’ (during which Butler donned a large, papier-mâché version of his own head because, y’know, why not?), it was a relief that the set concluded with a chilled, rhythmic performance of ‘Here Comes the Night Time’ and a burst of swirling silver confetti descending from the ceiling.
With the vibe of someone skittishly approaching the piano after the wild exhaustion of a party, Arcade Fire took to the stage for an encore in which they played two slow-tempo tracks from Funeral – ‘Crown of Love’ and ‘Haïti’. Butler then announced that there’d be a DJ set to follow, if anyone wanted to stay and dance – ‘I know it’s a Monday night’ he admitted.
But the fun, colourful vibe of the after-party really encapsulated what I think the band are now all about; bringing the fun back into their music and creating a unique atmosphere their crowd can enjoy.