Only tantalisingly close to transcendence

Is there anyone left in England that has not seen Mumford & Sons live in the last two years? Really, what mileage is left in their banjo bashing bonhomie and arena-tuned hick schtick? Lining them up against Arcade Fire tonight seems like the cruelest of juxtapositions; the trite claptrap of ‘Little Lion Man’ et al. are shamefully exposed next to Win Butler’s devastating evocation of an indolent world blithely sleepwalking its way into oblivion.

Perhaps then they are here to hype the crowd? Why? Arcade Fire make mincemeat of these mega-venues unassisted. Last year’s somewhat incongruous headliner at Reading/Leeds Festival raised a few eyebrows, but they only went onto smash it to bits. (Ditto in December 2010 at the notoriously sterile O2.) Hyde Park on a balmy summer’s evening, then, is surely theirs for the taking?

Initially it appears so. They tear out of the blocks with ‘Ready to Start’ followed by ‘Wake Up’ with their insightful overtures rousing the sleepy crowd who, until now, have treated the noise from the stage like an irritant at the bottom of their local beer garden. The band look utterly at ease, too, beaming and surveying the vast crowd punching the air to ‘No Cars Go’. Given the incredible success of ‘The Suburbs’, this tour ought to be little more than a global lap of honour. But there’s no sign of complacency here; every chord is struck and every tub thumped as if this were the last gig on earth.

But whilst it’s hard to fault their execution, conviction or musical clout of these defiant anthems, there’s unmistakably something missing tonight. ‘Rococo’, ‘Speaking in Tongues’ and ‘Crown of Love’ are stately and persuasive, but the set seems to lag with every passing minute. Come ‘The Suburbs’, the ‘kids’ on stage resemble those in the suburban war rendered in the video and song. They cheer its opening salvo, but become bored into the second verse and start mugging the group for photos.

Arcade Fire are a band that rally against banality, imitation and apathy, yet even though everyone’s whooping along, the feeling is the only way you’d get this pack of beered-up cretins to raise a fist to heaven would be if it were clenching a mobile phone or pissy lager. Any decent band can get a partisan crowd hollering along to its hits, a truly great band leaves something more meaningful in the air once the last “Whoas!” have rung out.

Fortunately, as darkness sets in, they jack up the intensity with a fearsome rendition of ‘Month of May’. “Every year, the rich people around this park try to buy up the rights so you can’t make a little noise,” rages Butler. “Everybody scream!” An exquisitely timed provocation, perhaps, but it’s enough to bring us up sharp. Just enough to remind us that for this band, music is more than a lifestyle choice: music is message.

A sublime segue into ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ follows as they barrel down the home straight with the ‘Neighborhood’ trilogy. Sure, it’s enough to justify the eye-watering ticket price, but for a band that typically do communion, not concert, this was only tantalisingly close to transcendence.

Words by Jim Blackpool
Photo by Rachel Lipsitz

View a full photo gallery from this gig, featuring Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons, HERE.

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