Arcade Fire Rattles Hyde Park — Rich Neighbors Be Damned: Concert Review
Arcade Fire kicked off the AEG-produced British Summertime concert series in London's Hyde Park on a clear-skied Thursday night, blasting through a two-hour set of the band's classic tracks and new crowd-pleasers.
Following supporting turns from Future Islands, Wild Beasts, Jake Bugg and Band of Skulls — the first of whom started the day's event at 4:15 p.m. — the headlining Canadians were led onstage by the dancing big-headed paper mache dopplegangers that have followed them on their Reflektor tour since the album's release last year, creating a sort of immediate carnival-act atmosphere. As if the creatures had snuck out without permission, frontman Win Butler stormed to the mic in a pretend frustration, yelling, "What is this? What the hell is this? This is a big gig, Hyde Park!"
And then, he announced: "Hello London. ... For perhaps the last time: Arcade Fire!"
Whether Butler was suggesting this might be the last time the band plays London at all or just on this album cycle, was unclear. But as the group launched into "Normal Person," there was a palpable jolt of excitement that rushed through the crowd of thousands.
The men of Arcade Fire wore mostly white suits altered with monochromatic geometric designs with bright neon paint splashed about their bodies and faces, while the women were dressed in metallic golds and silvers that shimmered in the stage lights. With about a dozen members playing at any given time, the band filled the stage and surrounding park space easily with bright psychedelic visuals and dense, pounding orchestration.
And if any member was not playing in a certain part of a song, they were working through choreographed dance moves and vivid displays of showmanship, jumping and waving multicolored pompoms during the choruses. For his part, Butler banged his microphone against his guitar to create distortion in a move tha, while surely rehearsed, felt more natural than gimmicky. All proved the band can pull off a fine-tuned performance 13 years into its career.
"Easy to fall in love with London on a day like this," Butler said following "Rococo." Sure enough, with the sun up and hardly any clouds in sight, Londoners were out celebrating the good summer weather. Many had picnicked before the show in the surrounding park, and as the night approached, the audience seemed, on a whole, largely headed towards a collective drunkenness. Not that it created any negative atmosphere, but as the show went on and sun began to set there there was a noticeable lull in attention where people were talking louder and listening less.
But whatever had overtaken the crowd soon passed when Arcade Fire launched into with the contagious rhythm of "Reflektor," reinvigorating its audience with a new life and that conjured dancing without fail. The song "Afterlife" followed and with it, more excitement led by a mirrored man who rose on a stage from the audience and moved in robot-like dance moves and model-like poses, a spotlight shining on him as he faced the band probably 100 feet away.
As the set finished with "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)" and then "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" off its 2010 Grammy-winning album The Suburbs, it's interesting to note that despite some grumblings in the audience comparing its new songs to its older hits, that span of three songs off Reflektor felt like the show's peak. And while earlier anthems like "Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels)" are at this point an important touchstone of modern rock music, in concert the band's new material and its dense Haitian-inspired rhythms are fully enthralling live, making for a show that feels less like a collection of songs and more an immersive experience.
For an encore, Arcade Fire was led out by another big-headed figure: The Pope. He hung out onstage for a while, dancing until the band joined him for a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" along with a number of dancers wearing jungle animal masks running about the stage, which had fake trees built into it to try and blend into the park setting.
"Shhh, don't wake the rich people up," Butler told the crowd before "Here Comes The Night Time," making an obvious reference to the local residents who complained earlier this year about the Hyde Park concerts. Not to be intimidated, the band blasted fans with explosions of confetti and streamers, while Butler stood atop a white monitor box singing to the crowd.
"Wake Up" closed the show, styled to feel slightly ska and adding some complexity to the band's early hit. Loving every moment, even after the band's final goodbye, the crowd stood in the park singing the melodic words-free chorus line like a soccer chant with passion and gratitude.
Joan of Arc
Ready to Start
Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels)
Crown of Love
Antichrist Television Blues
No Cars Go
It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Sympathy for the Devil
Here Comes The Night Time
Neighborhood 3 (Power Out)