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Despite what the ticket says, this is not the first ever gig outside of North America by a mysterious new band called The Reflektors. Instead, it’s our first look at Arcade Fire after numerous, inspirational trips to the Caribbean and James Murphy lent them a pair dancing shoes.
This is truly a completely different band to the one that toured the dark, ominous ‘Neon Bible’ six years ago. Then, they stood in black before huge, towering church organs. Now, masquerading as The Reflektors, they are a vision of Technicolor, with dazzling costumes, instruments covered in mirrors and a venue decked out like a street carnival.
Murphy’s trademark mirror balls are immediately put to good use, dousing the room in shimmering light as the curtain comes down on the 10-piece band, which now counts two Haitian percussionists in its ranks.
“Formal attire or costume mandatory!” order the gig posters. Many oblige. “Pick an appropriate costume for tonight's Arcade Fire show,” read one pre-gig tweet from @tom_amazing, “by wearing something that's overly long and comes apart towards the end.” (Be sure to see if you are snapped in our gallery, those who dressed up.)
True, the double-album ‘Reflektor’ is a bloated and foggy cousin compared to the conceptually watertight records that preceded it, which struggles under the weight of its philosophical themes and shifting styles.
However, its many moments of brilliance come to the fore during the live show. From the title-track’s cannonballing crescendo, to the razor-sharp riff that slices through ‘It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’, or ‘Flashbulb Eyes’’s electrified steel drum pulse, it’s all dizzyingly intoxicating.
There's one moment, during a frantic cover of Devo’s ‘Uncontrollable Urge’, which encapsulates the band’s recent undying dedication to the out-of-the-ordinary, even in the face of disaster. Wearing a giant, papier-mâché head, perhaps too full of ideas, proves momentarily too much for man mountain frontman Win Butler, causing him to lose balance and fall. A metaphor for ‘Reflektor’’s sometimes misguided ambition? Too easy…
Elsewhere, the rare and golden tracks from ‘Funeral’ still sound as dramatic, emotionally raw and inspiring as ever, even more so following a ‘Reflektor’-style makeover. ‘Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)’ proves to be something of a meta-moment that sees the past and the present coalesce to somehow improve on perfection.
‘Here Comes The Night Time’ heralds a ticker-tape finalé, bringing the carnival atmosphere to a crescendo with its soca beat rubbing up against the track’s lyrics of over-zealous religious missionaries.
“Cultural tourism kiss my ass,” Butler adds soon after, seemingly in response to the intellectual trolls that have gone so far as to accuse the band of exploiting Haiti’s culture for their own benefit.
Arcade Fire certainly owe a lot to the country – not least in the form of countless examples of visual and musical inspiration. And also, as Butler acknowledges, for providing the band with a frontwoman and, for him, a wife.
On cue, Régine takes centre stage to close the gig with a resounding ‘Haiti’. The final applause is left for the two Haitian drummers that have driven Arcade Fire’s new direction, who carry on the track’s spirited tune long after the other musicians have left the stage.
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Words: Nico Franks
Photos: Danny Payne (website)
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