Arcade Fire (Canada)

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

Finally returning to Australia after their last visit in 2008Arcade Fire might just have given us the gig of 2014, only 22 days into the year.

Last time Arcade Fire ventured to our shores, they’d had some pretty solid indie success with the brilliant debut album Funeral, and its equally well received follow up Neon Bible. They played to around 1500 crazy fans at the Forum Theatre, in what many – including these eyes and ears – saw and heard as one of the best gigs in the past 10 years.

Fast forward to 2014. The venue is the 10,000 capacity Sidney Myer Music Bowl, the Canadians now have an Album of the Year Grammy to their name for 2010’s The Suburbs. They’ve even got the James Murphy produced double album – yes, they still exist – Reflektor to unleash live, and it remains to many somewhat of a mystery as to how the lengthy tunes and high production will scrub up live. Shortly, the Melbourne crowd will find out.

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

Diplo, supporting Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

First though, they’re treated to a DJ set from show opener Diplo – the brain in charge of fellow Big Day Out artists Major Lazer. What looked a strange choice on paper proved stranger on stage – despite the obvious admiration between both artists (Arcade Fire front man Win Butler watched the bulk of the iMac-toting DJ’s set from side of stage) – it’s just not working for the knob-twiddler tonight. Playing across a sparsely populated seated area in broad daylight, to a largely disinterested crowd, this was a terrible support selection that – given the number of bands in town for the Big Day Out – could have been chosen far better.

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

Win Butler of Arcade Fire watches on @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

That said, punters had not paid $120 to listen to a DJ. They’d shelled out to see one of the first shows on the Reflektor tour, and as a gaggle of musicians with large caricatured heads made their way to the stage, immediately launching into Rebellion (Lies), all was forgiven. Or was it? Part way through the messy incarnation of Arcade Fire’s ubiquitous crowd pleaser, the band were ushered off-stage – pantomime style – by the real Arcade Fire. Led by husband and wife songwriting pair Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, order was restored and the band were about to find out if opening their show with the Reflektor tune Normal Person was a good idea or not.

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

It was. Glittering in a gold lame jacket, Butler cut through the smoke and bright lights to hit the crowd between the eyes, backed by the wall of sound the now 10 strong tour lineup created. With the back catalogue Arcade Fire possess, this was a bold move, but one that paid off handsomely as they jump straight from the new to the old with Funeral’s epic Rebellion (Lies) and Wake Up following immediately on at its conclusion.

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

Getting in touch with the crowd

Butler is the focal point as all behind him is chaos, with instrument swapping and some strange interpretive dance the order of the day for his bandmates. Climbing into the crowd adds that physical connection to complement the stunning sound being produced by his 9 cohorts remaining on stage. Richard Reed Parry’s red hair has a mind of its own as he bends his back into hitting the drums during the latter tune, and violinist Sarah Neufeld owns stage right.

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire

A change of pace follows, with Butler walking slowing through the seated area of the Myer Music Bowl to deliver a new take on My Body is a Cage. Ocean of Noise is an unexpected inclusion, getting its first airing since 2011, and gives the crowd a chance to catch their breath. Butler takes a seat at the piano and delivers the title track from The Suburbs, but it’s the majestic Reflektor track It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus) that rises from the ashes of The Suburbs that kickstarts the run home in spectacular fashion. Clocking in at over 7 minutes, it’s not a tune for everyone but as it ebbs and flows its way through guitar rock, atmospheric soundscapes and stabbing vocals, it’s the Reflektor album in a nutshell: not always accessible, challenging and complex, but never, ever dull.

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

Win Butler of Arcade Fire

After giving us probably the best song from the aforementioned album, Afterlife, it’s time for Butler to hand the stage over to his wife who’s live voice has come a long way in 5 years. Sprawl II is the perfect vehicle, a vivid vocal painting that lives up to its subtitle Mountains Beyond Mountains. Whilst her ribbon twirling song finale probably won’t secure her a spot in the rhythmic gymnastics final at the Rio Olympic Games, her smile is infectious and enthusiasm undeniable.

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire

In what was possibly a calculated move on the eve of what would have been Michael Hutchence’s 54th birthday, the band surprise us all with their take on the INXS classic Devil Inside. Wearing his head mask, Butler builds the song from its low key opening to a raucous climax, before seguing beautifully into the offbeat rhythms of Here Comes the Night Time.

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

It’s a song that’s yet to grab these ears on the album, even finding itself skipped on most listens (along with the painfully average Flashbulb Eyes), but it comes alive in front of the thousands of dancing fans who are swiftly showered with confetti and given every opportunity to bust out some dance moves as awkward as some of the endearing ones they’ve witnessed on stage over the past 90 minutes. After a brief break, punctuated by roadies dutifully fanning away any stray confetti from Will Butler’s keyboards, the band return with the 3 pronged attack of Ready To Start, Reflektor and finally Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out). It’s a far more lavish performance than 5 years prior, and more polished, and though they’ve grown from indie darlings to arena gold, Arcade Fire at their core remain as unique and intriguing as ever.

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

Arcade Fire @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne, 22nd January 2014)

Was it better than the Forum?

Well, it certainly wasn’t any worse.

-AB

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