Arcade Fire in 3Arena, Dublin, on April 6th 2018
It’s something that performers have grappled with for years – dismantling that barrier that exists between the people on stage and the people before them. Tonight, in the 3Arena, Arcade Fire do so with remarkable effect. Their current tour sees the band dispense with the traditional stage show for a more immersive experience, with the band planted in the centre of the crowd. The stage is laid out like a boxing ring, and garish graphics adorn the overhead screens in the lead up – stylised Arcade Fire banner ads, late-night TV call-ins, 1800 telephone numbers – a riff on their tongue-in-cheek promotional campaign for last year’s ‘Everything Now’ album.
A digital, audience-baiting cowboy graphic reminds us in the most southern-est of accents that tonight’s show is ‘IN THE ROUND!” before the disclaimer: “I’m not legally allowed to ask if you’re ready to rumble…but I sure hope you are!” A prescient selection, Walter Murphy’s A Fifth Of Beethoven beckons the band from the wings as the MC hypes them up, nine players with a collective weight of 2100lbs. The air of anticipation is already set, but what Arcade Fire go on to deliver from this cabaret kick-off is beyond any expectation.
For Win Butler, bandleader and ringleader, the stage floor is lava. He rarely seems to be on it, instead conducting from atop amps and monitors, or from the piano stool and drumkit that sit on the revolving central podium. His brother, Will, makes the most of the stage set-up, throwing himself continuously into the ropes while hammering a tom on Rebellion (Lies), before descending into the rat run around the stage and pitching into the front rows. Just three songs in then, Arcade Fire drop the killer blow. As the tribal beat thunders in midway through Here Comes The Night Time, Jeremy Gara’s drumkit begins to rotate on the podium and stagehands suddenly dismantle the ropes around the ring, removing – literally and conceptually – the barrier between crowd and band. It’s a simple but incredibly effective move, bringing the entire venue that bit closer together.
Arcade Fire played Electric Picnic in 2005, a gig which has taken on a kind of mythical status as the years go by, and its one the band have remarked upon throughout their career. “Every fucking time we play here we’ll give you everything we have,” Win tells us, as the lighting rig creates a huge, strobing boxing ring above everyone and they dispense a one-two punch of No Cars Go and Headlights Look Like Diamonds from their first EP.
Where Butler makes his stage presence felt, Régine Chassagne equals it at every turn, and her performance of Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) is simply luminous. As Win taps on a cowbell the disco party begins, multicoloured lights alter the room and the singer’s flawless falsetto fills the air. If you weren’t dancing before, you were now.
At certain points, both Butler and Chassagne descend into the crowd, up close and personal. At the encore, during We Don’t Deserve Love, Win sings from the front of the sound desk looking up to the stage, and as he makes his way back to his position, someone steals his Stetson. His reaction is captured on the big screen, mouthing a pissed-off “Why?” The mood seems like it’s about to turn, but just when you start to think “this is why we can’t have nice things,” the hat is returned and order is restored.
The former song’s surprise segue into The Cranberries’ Linger is the second of two nods to those departed, after Rococo’s Smells Like Teen Spirit coda, and seems to bind the band that bit closer to the audience with a touching tribute to Dolores O’Riordan. The collective, full throat of the 3Arena is subsequently behind them for a final, euphoric Wake Up, the last of a handful of ‘Funeral’ destroyers that dot the set.
This is a group at the top of their game when it comes to live performance. When Butler sings of “standing on a stage of fear and self-doubt” on My Body Is A Cage at the halfway mark, the mind drifts not to a man troubled by uncertainty, but to The Band’s Stage Fright; to a man “standing up there to give it all his might.” It comes right back to Butler’s earlier promise and a bargain upheld – they gave us everything they have.