I could almost smell the incense as I walked into the Enmore and gazed at the pipe organ that dominated the stage. Spoon were already jamming, but their upbeat sound seemed somehow incongruous with the theatrical setting. The crowd was polite but mostly indifferent, interested only in the imminent arrival of the “Holy Ones.”
Given the overdriven hype and miles of column inches devoted to Arcade Fire (even here in Australia), it was unsurprising that the theatre was packed to the rafters with a wide range of hipsters, music lovers, and gawkers, all eager to see what the international fuss is all about. It was such a madhouse, in fact, that the dense crowd had filled the auditorium and spilt out into the foyer. An army of roadies buzzed about the stage, assembling a clavichord here, a glockenspiel there, as well as several microphone stands complete with loudspeakers perched at the tops. Whatever we were about to see, it was obvious that it was going to be big.
The anticipation reached a fevered pitch as latecomers jostled to gain a better view of the stage, and the early birds used elbows and evil glares to ward them off. As the lights went down, a riot of shouting and applause tore through the joint; this continued until the ten-piece group finally took to the stage and the opening chords of “Wake Up” rang out across the room.
Opening the show with this number was a stroke of genius, and what ensued was the biggest sing-along I have ever witnessed. Arcade Fire struck concert gold when they mandated that almost all of its tunes have several woo-hooo-hoo-hoo-hoooo-hooooos thrown in for the benefit of lyric-struck concertgoers. Nothing gets a half-drunk crowd going like the opportunity to belt out a tune with its favorite band, and, while poetic at times, frontman Win Butler seems to have realised that, at some points, lyrics only get in the way.
All the members of this group put a tremendous amount of energy into their performance, and the audience in turn fed off it. Butler didn’t say much except for the occasional “thank you for coming,” but then, when you’ve come this far form home, nothing else needs to be said. After all, the audience had come for one thing only, and Arcade Fire were more than willing to simply shut up and let their music do the talking.
I have to admit that I was drawn to the concert on the strength of the band’s debut, Funeral, and have since paid minimal attention to its follow-up, Neon Bible. That said, I walked away from the show a convert. The show relied heavily on the later album, both in terms of content and theme; rather than weaken the performance, this tactic provided a sense of purpose and continuity.
After the second encore had come and gone, I assumed the show was over. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Arcade Fire saved one of their best tricks for last, arriving back on stage as they strummed acoustic chords that rapidly coalesced into the familiar shape of “Kiss Off”. It was a masterstroke, the sing-along to end all sing-alongs, and it sent the audience into the night with a sense that they hadn’t just seen a brilliant show, they’d been part of one as well.