The Great Arcade Fire of London
arcade fire

I’ve already heard it called The Great Arcade Fire of London.

Justified? I don’t know, is the simple answer, but the first UK show from Arcade Fire in almost 2 years, where they’d showcase new album ‘Neon Bible’ in an old baroque English church in the midst of the grand seat of the UK Government was undoubtedly touching on great.

You could tell it had been a while since Arcade Fire had met their audience as Win Butler and his beautiful ramshackle band marched onstage with guitars, violins, megaphones, French horns, accordion and a hurdy gurdy, to de-rust themselves through opener ‘Black Mirror’ and obvious ‘Neon Bible’ singles ‘Keep The Cars Running’ and ‘No Cars Go’. The sound was awful to start with, Win Butler’s voice barely audible in a muddy quagmire of muffled bass, harsh drums and inseparable sounds, but we all kept faith. I almost prayed. And the Lord he did answer.

Regine took over vocal duties for the start of the superb ‘Black Wave/Bad Vibrations’ and her homage to her home ‘Haiti’ (from previous album ‘Funeral’) as the band started to get into their stride. The sound was most noticeably bad at the back of the venue and even where I was, directly in the middle, I knew it could be better. So when one of the audience ‘sssh’d’ another who had bounded up stage-side to worship out loud and Win hilariously rebuked “Jesus Christ, it’s not a fucking church now,” I had to make my move. As the band seamlessly merged ‘Ocean Of Noise’s finishing wall of sound into ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ I joined the growing crowd bouncing at the front of the stage and gleefully parked myself speaker-side as the place erupted to a song rightly revered as one of Arcade Fire’s best. This was the point where this gig became special.

The amazing (sadly synthesised) church organ intro to ‘Intervention’, one of ‘Neon Bible’’s unforgettable moments, came next and despite the disappointment that the massive authentic organ at the back of the church wasn’t to be used this still sounded absolutely huge. The next four songs simply flew by as every instrument swap, every thrown drum, every introduction of horns, strings or Win’s now soaring voice was met with utter adulation. New songs ‘Windowsill’, ‘The Well And The Lighthouse’ and ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)’ sandwiched ‘Neighbourhood 1 (Tunnels)’ and as you’d expect the familiar classic was lauded, but the new Dylan and Springsteen-esque songs also went down a storm as the band walked off-stage to tumultuous applause, the crowd completely won over.

As they left the lads next to me screamed for ‘Neighbourhood 3(Power Out)’ and Win and his merry band dutifully leapt straight back on-stage and encored with an absolutely awesome unplanned version, before walking off again, with Win apologising for not just getting straight to the point and playing the classics.

If the honest earlier musical turnaround, emphatic midsection, and inspiring racing finish wasn’t enough to make this gig special, what came next undoubtedly did.

As I watched the band walk round the back of the audience, instruments in hand, I suspected something was gonna happen. I decided to cut them off up the right hand aisle of the church and try to grab a few photos. As I waited poised by the side entrance to the church, they promptly marched right past me before setting up camp outside to treat us all to an impromptu, megaphone vocal, acoustic version of ‘Wake Up’. I was the first outside, and as I parked myself in front of them at the foot of the church stairs backing onto the square outside almost every voice in the audience joined in a truly unforgettable mass rendition of a classic song. Voices drifted up into the winter sky, lights flicked on in government office windows above us and passers by joined us in disbelief. No one that was there will forget that moment.

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