Following the procession up the hill to finally arrive at the Victorian grandeur of Alexandra Palace – palm trees, stained glass windows and a panorama spiked with the spirit of winter – provided plenty of time to wonder how something so lyrically disconsolate could so consistently be met with such plaudits. It’s become a figure of general acceptance that if you get the Arcade Fire then you’re pretty much there. But what does the mainstream (or equally, the not-so) know anyway?
In an era where originality is scarce and is sometimes forgone for something more akin to innovation through a bizarre, if self-evident, combination of influences, it’s clear that upon listening to Funeral and Neon Bible, that something special is occurring before your very ears. Bursting at the seams with so many wonderful contradictions - apocalyptic to anachronistic, dark to light, ethereal to candid, transcendent to claustrophobic – it is a huge question whether the collectivism on record can be recreated in such daunting surroundings.
The venue has been turned into a festival, complete with food stalls and drinks tickets, and the hall itself is huge, and centered on an icy cold reverberating all the way through from the appropriate weather conditions of a Saturday night in mid-November. The scene could not be more perfect if it tried, and spines are tingling even before the iconography of the neon bible itself makes itself known, and when the band, in their numbers, appear to the resounding chant of Black Mirror, the crowd tighten their scarves and begin to become possessed by the spirit. Régine Chassagne is attired in the most wonderful of almost costume-drama gloves, and the rest of the band are in their gothic-horror Saturday best, taking up every inch of space on their giant pedestal.
The megaphone, the accordion, the discordance, the long-limbed frame of Win Butler, the contentedness; it is all simply sublime. The records are transferred to stage like it’s the easiest, most natural thing in the world. It comes so effortlessly, and each band member, whilst swapping instruments (something even during songs) is so completely taken over and focused on their performance that it is so obvious to see why this band are what they are and have what they have. Some might call it the creation of a spectacular through the true spirit of unburdened creative independence. The theme of deconstruction so present in Funeral and the juxtapositional reconstruction evident in Neon Bible have met in the middle; input and output reconciled. The set is seamlessly arranged as a combination of the familiar – including a fantastically energetic, driven, Keep The Car Running, a purposeful Tunnels, and a rare live showing of the all-encompassing Neon Bible – and the not so – the band covering The Smiths, New Order, and The Clash attentively and with such panache that the iconic status of these bands is almost instantly forgotten.
Highlights? Narrowing it down is going to be a perfunctory run through at best because ranking involves there surely being an obvious distinction of standards. But if forced, Rebellion (Lies) as a closer before the encore was so well placed, so vigorously attacked, and so representative of the wonder that something so incredible has managed to capture and evoke so much in so many people:People say that your dreams/are the only things that save you. Come on baby in our dreams/we can live our misbehaviour.
There is no combination of hyperbole that could totally recreate what this unique band do live … just go and see them before they (or you) implode.