“Thanks Scunthorpe,” Win Butler salutes the ecstatic, sweaty crowd crammed inside the town’s Baths Hall venue, early into Arcade Fire’s set. “It means a lot to be here,” he adds in full sincerity.
It clearly means just as much to the thousand or so fans gathered; that the Montreal outfit are blowing the roof off a small venue in a Northern industrial town in the midst of a tour taking in headline spots at some of Europe’s biggest festivals is not lost on anybody. It is preposterous in concept – and in reality, remains so for all the right reasons.
Ostensibly a warm-up gig for their slot at the Isle of Wight Festival, the band forgo their new stage-setup in favour of planting a pop-up construct in the middle of the auditorium, anchoring themselves to the centre of the venue.
It is a masterstroke; by performing in-the-round, Arcade Fire forge a beautiful intimacy over an hour-and-a-half of sweeping, soaring art-rock. From the shimmering disco of recent single Everything Now, through to new track Signs of Life, given its world debut, they are part of the moving scrum, intrinsically tying themselves to their fans.
Few artists dare gamble on this live approach; here, it pays off with thrilling results.
Such tiny gigs have the double-edge sword of magnifying musical flaws, but Arcade Fire’s understanding of sonic heft and subtlety smooths over the rare rough edges with giddy abandon. The urgent baroque-tinged No Cars Go is stirringly passionate; rare cut Black Mirror insidious in its softer thrum. The burbling synthpop of Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) swells with ardent delight; Afterlife’s ethereal weariness is transformed into dramatic, cerebral dance-rock. For Reflektor, Butler commands that all stage lights be extinguished; in its place, hundreds of phone torches pick out his David Byrne dance moves.
“Give me an acoustic guitar,” the frontman asks after a volatile sprint through a visceral Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) and a majestic Rebellion (Lies). With all but his own microphone shut off from the sound system, Butler leads the band through an entirely acoustic rendition of Wake Up, unamplified and unplugged, its refrain carried on a massed chorus of voices in a triumphant roar of passion.
Arcade Fire’s prowess as formidable performers already precedes them on the world’s largest stages; it is no surprise then that, scaled down and stripped back, they are an even more magnificent enterprise.