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Arcade Fire completely embody the tangible energy and rhythmic pulse of their live show: confetti, colourful outfits, an ever changing number of people on (and sometimes off) stage, even some momentary twerking – they’re a sort of portable càrnivale.
Prior to the group’s Big Day Out sideshow in Sydney, frontman Win Butler explained: “There’s this kind of feeling in carnival where you’re kind of not yourself, just for the day, and you can kind of lose yourself in the crowd.” That’s exactly the kind of atmosphere Arcade Fire can so easily recreate – all identities collapse into one, and the experience stays with you.
Arcade Fire play with the notion of a “stage” as a performative space. Butler himself begins the concert within the crowd, draped in spotlights and singing My Body Is a Cage alongside a young boy with a drum. “I’m standing on a stage,” he croons, “Of fear and self-doubt / It’s a hollow play / But they’ll clap anyway.” It’s all very self-referential, before Butler runs back to the actual stage, and its mammoth black curtain drops.
The band routinely shift the audience’s focus, reappearing from within the crowd and swapping instruments. An Arcade Fire “stage” is an intangible, all-encompassing thing – a dramatic presence. The night’s “drama” was always illuminated by latest album Reflektor‘s slight electronic hue, the seven tracks from that album remaining true to their ecstatic Haitian dance-floor vibe.
They effortlessly transitioned between those Caribbean rhythms to touch on baroque pop, indie-rock and alternative rock too, embracing anonymity by avoiding genre labels. Butler knows that people admire him and his band, but also admits he’s fine with not being recognised at The Grammys. Anyone can make music, he notes. All it takes is “professionalism” and “devotion”, two qualities Arcade Fire have always displayed.
Their set list choices make that clear. Although recently armed with an arena-sized album, Arcade Fire took cuts from all four of their studio full-lengths, and even flashed New Order’s Temptation and INXS’ Devil Inside to complete a well-balanced set. Older favourites like No Cars Go and Wake Up played nicely with the newer tunes.
American DJ Diplo, he of Major Lazer fame, took the position of “confusing support choice” on the night, and a large number of the Arcade Fire fans were clearly a little wary and unsure about his inclusion on the bill.
His 45-minute set also crossed those genre lines, mashing tracks from the likes of Frank Ocean, Daft Punk and Little Dragon into sets of danceable grooves. He slowly built the crowd up, ready for the down-right partying which was to follow, even hanging around after Arcade Fire had been and gone.
The contagious dancing and good-vibes left behind by the Canadians were extended into the night, and somehow everything just made perfect sense. The “stage” can be wherever you want it to be.